We arrive at the edge of the tumbling Pacific on the tail end of a windy June Sunday, when the beachgoers are already heading back inland, parents wrangling their sandy children and dogs, dragging coolers and blankets up the dusty trail to the parking lot.
We are here not for the sunset, nor to picnic as the evening tide rises and overtakes the sand. Not to gather shells or swim. The riptide today prevents us from venturing into the frothy churning waters at all. Instead we climb our way over the sandstone ledges at the far end of the beach to a rocky cove littered with moss agates―olive green and citrine―still wet from the sea.
We are here to let go, then to invite in something entirely new
The past few years have been a challenge. Lockdown, unplanned job changes, the loss of a beloved pet, guiding two teenagers in remote learning without teachers or peers to share space with. Before the lost year of the pandemic, our fifteen-year-old son fell ill with depression complicated by substance abuse, for which he spent nearly half a year in residential treatment. We survived one difficult season, then another, in quick succession, with no time to rest or recover. We feel sometimes as if we are awakening back into the world after a long enforced slumber, our limbs awkward and stiff from inactivity.
My husband carries the blankets, tote bags, and the new puppy as I make my way carefully down the steep path bordered in ice plant, blooming in brilliant raspberry pink. There are only two cars left in the lot―one of them ours.
Before we left home, I did some research on the power of rituals, specifically those steeped in intention and an honest desire for change. I can’t help noticing the weight of the past dragging behind me like a leaden shadow, marking my fitful passage through the world with a long imprint of ash. Regrets and mistakes like the charred remnants of an old fire. My husband is along for the ride, but I encourage him to think about things he’d rather be free of. I feel sure the only way to make space for what we desire―peace, satisfaction, creative flow, alignment―is to jettison the reserves of fear and bitterness lingering below the surface of our everyday lives.
I brought with us a metal bowl, a box of kitchen matches, a notebook and pen, and two coral roses at the height of their bloom from the garden. As the puppy explores a drift of seaweed at the high tide line, we set our intentions.
Saying our farewells out loud made them real
I let go of the weight of the past, I read from the notes I prepared. I am free.
My husband says, I find peace when I let go.
On a blanket facing the ocean we take three deep breaths together, lost in the crash of the waves against the rocks. I pull out the notebook and write down what I’m letting go of. I don’t edit myself, or sugar-coat my words. There are people and events I want to release, things I’ve held onto that no longer serve me. I hand the notebook to my husband and he scrawls out his items on a new page in barely legible writing.
The metal bowl is one from my childhood home. Stainless steel with a ring on one side, part of a larger set my mother used in the 70s for baking. I can see her at the counter in our gold kitchen, stirring brownie batter with a wooden spoon. Somehow this lone bowl survived a move across the country more than thirty years ago, and now joins us here on this beach three thousand miles from the store where it was purchased.
We crumple up our papers and my husband lights the match. The burning is over quickly. A short flare, followed by a moving band of yellow flame bordered in turquoise. We watch the scarlet embers overtake the white of the paper, and turn to silvery ash at the bottom of the bowl. Three more breaths to release our attachments to the secrets disappearing on the burning slips of paper. We step closer to the edge of the water and scatter the delicate ashes into the winds off the ocean.
The brindled grey puppy regards us from the blanket, one ear up, a bit of vegetation from the path stuck in his curly coat. I ask my husband to close his eyes.
Imagine a beautiful white light above our heads. Allow it to slowly rain down from above, from the crowns of our heads to our toes. As it moves down, allow it to cleanse and enliven us. Feel the spaciousness and peace we have created. Place your hand over your heart and take three more breaths.
He tries not to laugh as the puppy barks at a passing gull. I unwrap the roses and hand one to him.
Think about what you wish for, what you would love to see happen for you now that you are free. What is now possible.
I think of my son’s future, my fledgling second career as a writer, the house we’d like to build someday near the edge of the sea. My husband keeps his wishes to himself, but I imagine a deliberate letting go, like shrugging a heavy coat off his broad shoulders. We approach the water’s edge again and throw the roses into the breaking surf as we make our wishes. A large wave breaks over my feet, soaking my shoes and socks with salt water. Just as the waves consumed the ashes, transporting them away from us standing on the solid shore, we send our wishes into the waiting universe. Wishes made powerful by words and symbols, coral stark and insistent against the slate blue and white foam.
As the sun begins its descent into the horizon, the winds out of the west pick up speed, blowing my carefully written instructions against the cliffs. The next set of waves carries the roses back in again.
That’s life, my husband says.
But in this new moment, we don’t take it as a bad sign. We simply wait for a lull and throw them back in again as hard as we can―out beyond the break―where they float and then lose themselves, petals scattering in the vast relentless sea.
We stay almost until dark, standing on the rocks above the cove as the sky stains the cold air pink, then saffron.
Embracing a mystery we will never fully comprehend
Do you feel free yet? I ask my husband.
I’m not sure, but I think so.
I do, I tell him. I guess I was ready after all.
I’m not yet certain what will find us, and what we will find. What will grow in the
spaciousness left by our goodbyes. Why it took us two years to get here. Why the contemplation of the letting go is such a difficult obstacle to overcome. How this farewell changed us, in ways beyond our intentions, for our greater good.
We gather our belongings and my husband shakes the sand from our old blue blanket. The puppy drinks water from his travel dish and we make our way back up the steep trail to the parking lot. We are alone at the edge of the Pacific, bundled into down jackets. I strip off my wet socks and wrap my bare feet in a blanket for the ride home. We sing along to the radio as we follow the familiar route east from the coast.
Something feels different. It’s bigger than us―this mystery we are part of. Even if we don’t understand it, we are ready.