Last time I was at the beach, I read two books - the first book I purchased on the way down and the second was in the bookcase just waiting. Funny thing, both the books had similar themes that when combined moved me to think thoughtfully about my own life.
Between the Tides by Patti Callahan Henry was the book I bought because I walked past it in the bookstore seeing the word tides and a white crinoline showing beneath a child's white skirt. You know it looked and sounded beachy.
William Shakespeare wrote "What is past is prologue." Between the Tides explores the reality of the middle ground between the past and future, between high tide and low. Nine months after her father's death, Catherine still could not bring herself to sprinkle the ashes in the Carolina Low Country river of her childhood as her father wished. By sending his daughter back to her childhood home he hoped that she would be able assuage guilt, find truth, and change her perceptions, so that she could live fully in the future. Encouraged by Forest Anderson, her father's assistant professor, Catherine makes the trip, finds answers, and is able to embrace her true self and a future full of love and expectation.
Having heard of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd, yet knowing nothing of it, I picked it up to finish out my weekend of relaxation. Jessie Sullivan goes to the Barrier Islands of South Carolina to care for her mother who has intentionally severed a finger while cooking at a monastery. Though being contentedly married for years, Jessie falls in love with a monk who has not yet taken his final vows. Through this love she reignites her life and breaks out of her metaphorical box. In the end, she decides to reunite with her husband, but before she does she makes a commitment to herself.
OK, I guess everyone is wondering what sprinkling the ashes of a father and an affair with a monk have in common. Seeing it written does make it seem more improbable, yet each of these women chose a safe place, rather than finding a place of growth and full living. Each put life and love on hold while living a truncated life. True, one was trapped by the past and the other trapped by the needs and routines of life with a family, but what each failed to do(and in my opinion what many women fail to do) was to devote time, space, and energy to nurture herself.
There is a scene at the end of The Mermaid Chair when Jessie walks out into the water to complete a ritual that she had seen her mother and her mother's friends perform when she was young in which they tied some yarn together and cast it to the sea to show an enduring bond between the friends, but instead of making a vow to family or friends she makes a commitment to herself - a commitment to make room for her inner spirit.
I let the demands of family, work, and home smother the person I am. Even without having an affair with a monk or losing a parent I realize that I, too, need to commit to myself. I think I will walk to the top of the highest hill on our farm in the almost full moon, tie a knot in a ribbon and cast it into the breeze, thereby vowing to make a little time for me - not the mother me, not the wife me, not the daughter me, not the sister me, not the useful at work me. What about you?