My Heart~My Spirit~My Home

Oregon Coast

My Heart~My Spirit~My Home

What do you do when the two places that feel like home are on opposite ends of the country?

I’m a Midwesterner who grew up in the ’60s, thinking I’d have to go to California to find myself. This was a thing in the ’60s. If you listened to the Beach Boys, you might get there and discover you’ve always been a surfer. Or you’d head to San Francisco and find that your true self was a flower child. I was neither. I didn’t make it to California until I was nearly 50, and by that time, I already knew exactly who I was.

San Diego was my first California city, and it was heaven for this Chicago girl; 50° in the winter, 75° in the summer, and perpetually sunny. My husband and I lived full-time in an RV and spent many of our winters there. We had friends, a wonderful Baha’i faith community, bicycles, and everything else you need to make a place feel like home.

But it never did.

It felt like a place where I loved to be but didn’t quite belong.

The last time we spent several months in San Diego, we were working on our book and having difficulty focusing. It was much easier to spend the day at Torrey Pines State Park searching for seashells. Or to share a leisurely breakfast with a friend in La Jolla, gazing out at the ocean as we buttered our toast.

Then our editor gave us a deadline. There’s nothing like a deadline to knock some sense into a writer. Clearly, we needed to go someplace else with no distractions and get serious about finishing our book. And we also needed space — private space, that is.

We’d been living on the road in our RV for about ten years at that point. Being in a space that small with another person 24/7, even when you love him, can get, shall we say, tiresome after a while. We guessed we’d make more progress on our manuscript if we didn’t have to look at each other every minute of every day.

I’m not sure how we settled on the Oregon Coast, but it seemed perfect.

The closest Baha’is were across the mountains and too far away to be a distraction. We found an inexpensive apartment with a separate room for each of us, put our RV in storage, and got to work.

In winter, which runs from October through June, it rains non-stop. But the summers are glorious beyond anything I’d imagined. Fortunately, we got there in July. By the time the rain started, I was already in love.

At first, I wondered if everyone at the beach was depressed because they walked slowly along the ocean’s edge with their heads hanging down. Only later did I realize they were looking for beach agates.

I myself became an agate hunter. I bought rock tumblers and an agate scoop to snatch an agate out of the ocean before a wave took it away. I learned to go hunting just as the sun was setting, to squat down and look along the surface of the sand. The agates popped out like fireflies, reflecting the slanted rays of the late afternoon sun.

Then there were the gray whales that migrated past the Oregon Coast twice a year — once on their way south to mate and once on their way back north to feed. On my way to the grocery store, I could pull off on the scenic overlook and watch a mother whale and her baby feeding in the kelp. Being so close to these majestic animals is a mystical experience.

My daily morning walks took me through the temperate rainforest, along pathways dripping with ferns. And when I was done writing for the day, I would sit on a cliff and watch the waves exploding on the rocks below. I’ve never found a place more beautiful in the entire country.

If all that was not enough, there was the clam chowder, ironically the New England kind. Every cafe and restaurant along the Coast had its own secret recipe, and they competed for the title of Best Clam Chowder of the Year. What more could a person want? In so many ways, this was home.

But something, or rather someone, was missing.

People of Color — any color except peachy beige. It was so White where we lived that my African drum teacher had to leave.

One night after class, he said, “I’ve had enough. I can’t take one more White person stopping their car to gape at me while I walk down the street.”

He went back to Portland, which, while not exactly a Mecca for Black folks, was still more welcoming.

We left Oregon shortly after our book was published. All our necessities were moved back into the RV, and everything else was sold or donated. The days of separate rooms were over for a while. I said a teary goodbye to the ocean, and we headed out for an 18-month book tour around the country.

One of our stops was Atlanta. We’d been here several times over the years, but this visit was different. We had transformative experiences, and the friendships we formed kept pulling on us after we left. When our book tour was finished, and we knew it was time to settle somewhere, it was Atlanta that called to us most insistently.

There’s no ocean here, no whales or agates.

The clam chowder is mediocre at best. But the majority of people are African American, and this is what I need to feel right with the world.

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are White . . . like my siblings and my husband, my children, and grandchildren, among others. But my soul is more alive and aligned when I’m among Black folks in my everyday life. This is the place where I thrive.

Most of my friends, neighbors and members of my Baha’i faith community are Black women and men, youth and children. I can find Black physicians and frequent Black-owned businesses within minutes of my home.

If you’re White and don’t have many Black friends, you may not understand why I feel this way. And I’m not sure I can explain it in words that will make sense to you.

But I’ll try.

I lived for 48 years in places that were nearly all White before we started traveling. So I’ve had that experience, and much of it was wonderful. I just had no idea what I was missing. Once my world opened up, it became obvious to me that my life was out of balance.

I found Black friends — women and men of all ages. They taught me, challenged me, and loved me. They made me a better person.

an eye with reflection
Photo by Swapnil Potdar on Unsplash

In the Writings of the Baha’i Faith, which I embraced at age 19, Black people are compared to the pupil of the eye,

“. . . which is dark in colour, yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world”

“In this black pupil you see the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the Spirit shines forth.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 67

Here I am surrounded by this light. My life has balance, and I feel whole.

I miss the wild ocean and dramatic cliffs, the agates and the whales. It would be a blessing to spend time on the Oregon Coast again, and I hope I can make that happen. Yet I know it’s not where I belong.

I’ve come to rely on the wisdom of the Pupil of the Eye. Without it, I feel bereft. With it, I am home.

Photo by With Soul™ Social Media Agency on Unsplash

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