My little family just returned from our annual trip to the beach we take every June. My little family joins up with my bigger family and then we all join up with someone else’s bigger family and we all bunker ourselves up in a huge beach house off the coast of South Carolina. We have done this since I was two years old and my little family only consisted of me, my parents and younger brother and sister. This was our 34th year and each year it seems another number is added to the clan in the form of a spouse or new baby, sometimes two. I have realized as the years have passed this little town in South Carolina encompasses more of the feeling of home to me than any other place, more than my beloved Virginia, in whom I haven’t stepped in over 20 years, more even then my current hometown of Orlando, where my actual pillow has rested for more than 20 years. Throughout all of the change and uncertainty in my life, the one constant has been this little beach town in South Carolina every summer for a week.
This past week was one for the books! The weather was better than anyone could remember in years! Levi seemed to have fully connected with the magic of this place and had begun reliving some of the adventures I had there as a young child. All of the kids got along and no one got sick or injured. It was a truly serene and fun filled week at the beach.
And yet one evening in the middle of our time there I found myself standing alone on the balcony outside my room, staring up at the stars over the ocean. We don’t see a lot of stars in Orlando in the summer as they are usually mostly blocked from sight by clouds and the light pollution of our growing city. But on that balcony darkness loomed over the ocean, giving way to an impressive amount of stars. Levi has become quite the astronomy buff and so I quickly took out my phone and started aiming my star gazing app out over the ocean sky to identify these celestial beings, taking great delight in the fact that each bright point of light had a name and a purpose for being up there.
As I put my phone away and stared up once again I felt a deep emotion rustle somewhere in the catacombs of my heart, an emotion I often try to ignore back home but one that always seems to surface each summer at the beach as I look up at the night sky each year. Longing.
Every year since my teenage angsty ones I can remember looking up at that same patch of night sky and feeling the deep call of longing, of a life not quite fulfilled yet. So strong is the emotion in that sacred place for me it’s almost like a sensory memory, like when you get a whiff of something that transports you back to your elementary school cafeteria or when you hear the first few notes of a song that echoes back to your first love. Staring at that night sky in that place reminds me of all the longings I would let loose each summer while standing in that sacred place.
I remembered those first few memories, those angsty teenage ones. Being a late bloomer, those summer weeks were spent wondering if I would ever get to call someone boyfriend or have the precious story of a first kiss to tell. The beach week of the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school was especially solemn for me because instead of driving back to my hometown in Virginia, my family would pack the car up in South Carolina and find our new resting place in Michigan. The longing of that night sky was one of wondering if I would really be ok. Could I survive this? Would anyone like me? Would I ever find close friends again?
A decade and a half later I would be staring up at that same night sky but this time at 3AM, with a wailing 3 week old Levi cradled in my arms. We fell asleep in a rocking chair on the back porch, he and I both crying ourselves to sleep as I longed deeply to both be a good mom and also to be able to claim any sense of normalcy in my life again.
Longing. I think we have accidentally trained ourselves to resist longing. It doesn’t feel good. It’s uncomfortable. It forces us to admit we aren’t 100% happy. But if longing is left unattended, I have found it can often morph into more devious fiends like shame or comparison, which we know steals not only our happiness but our joy as well.
So here I am standing this summer on the balcony of a beautiful beach house, my son happily snoring away in his room, dreaming of the adventure of hermit crabs and coquinas that await him in the morning tide pools, my husband taking slow swigs of his favorite whiskey down below in a living room packed with my family and close friends laughing and telling “remember that year when…” stories to each other, the waves rhythmically rolling in under a beautifully clear night sky and I feel it creep up on me again: longing.
At first I dismiss it. What could I possibly have to long for?! This moment is as close to perfect as anyone could ask for! How absurdly selfish am I that I could ask for anything more?!
But then I decide to explore it. What could I ask for? What is it I want that I don’t have? Because I realized that all those summers ago when I was longing for that first kiss, I was identifying something that was important to me. I was being honest with myself at a time when real inward honesty was hard to come by. When I was longing to return to Virginia instead of the God forsaken north I was acknowledging that I was afraid and lonely. When I cried with baby Levi in the rocking chair I was admitting to myself for the first time that I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a mother. I faced my own selfishness and found fear lurking close behind.
Each time I gave in to the longing I walked away knowing myself a little bit better. The longing didn’t solve the problem. It didn’t immediately give me what I needed. But it brought with it a refreshing sense of honesty that reminded me I didn’t have to hide from myself. There were no boogeymen hanging out behind my longings, only desires of who I hoped I would one day become, experiences I hoped to live through.
I stood on that balcony alone for a long time that night, staring at the stars, moving towards the longing, asking myself what it was I wanted that I didn’t have…yet. I made some new goals. I mourned a few losses. I laughed at a few mishaps and near misses. Most importantly, I was honest with myself about who I want to become in the years to come, where I want to go, who I want to meet, what I want to do. Longing doesn’t take us to a scary place. It opens up the door to a world of “what ifs”, not the worrisome ones that steal our confidence, but the ones that presuppose there is always a plan and a purpose to our lives and all we have to do is walk through it.
I found longing living amongst the stars last week and I can only imagine where it might take me next!