|Phots credit: Sunny Shores|
This year in springtime, I enjoyed a two-week writer’s sojourn in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a quaint, seaside village located on Florida’s southeast coast. The sea shored up her bounty of gifts for me. In turn, I gift you my stories. Visit the story map to navigate this travel memoir.
Monday, April 25, 2016
Maps of the Heart
Sunny Shores would be my next-to-last stop in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Located on El Mar Drive, the small property welcomed me after my night of heavenly sleep. I entered my apartment through an intimate and inviting courtyard shaded by palm trees. A pair of cardinals visited a bird bath fountain during my stay. The two lovebirds were surely tending to a nest on Romance Row.
Like many of the properties I explored, Sunny Shores featured coastal décor in shades reminiscent of sky, sand and surf. A full-sized kitchen with a breakfast nook would make any home cook happy. I made a mental note of what delicious meals I’d prepare here if I were to stay more than a day.
A replica of a vintage Florida map -- the first of its kind I’d seen here -- hung on the living room wall -- and gave my room true old Florida feel. This delighted me to no end since maps have always sparked my imagination.
After settling in, I strolled over to the beach and just floated in the water. “This is my second-to-last day,” I thought. “I already miss this place.”
Inspired by the map in my room, I looked out at the horizon and thought about Florida’s maritime history. The Gulf Stream, an underwater river that flows along the east coast of the peninsula, became the I-95 of the New World after Columbus staked a claim in the Bahamas in 1492. Many galleons laden with treasure sailed on this warm current that propelled them to European ports of call. Tales of voyages to and from the Caribbean abound. Pirates were often first on the scene to salvage shipwrecks along the coast from Key West to St. Augustine. Long before there were paths cut through the wilderness, the only way to experience Florida was to embark on a sea-faring adventure.
I marvel at the exploits of sailors before the age of modern technology. Imagine journeying into the unknown, with only celestial navigation, astrolabes, sextants and rudimentary magnetic compasses to guide you. And of course, let’s not forget, a rolled-up chart, meticulously drawn on hide by a cartographer who dreamt of uncharted territories, of seas where mystical leviathans loomed ready to swallow ships whole and of sirens waiting patiently to lure wary sailors into their dens. These brave souls romanced the sea without electricity, GPS, satellite phones, depth finders, radars, wind gauges and weather forecasts.
I asked mother ocean about my own compass. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I’d be returning to in Miami. I needed a map of my own to chart my course.
She’s a goddess of few words: “If you listen to your heart,” she whispered. “You’ll never be lost at sea.”
My mother had passed nearly two years before this moment that found me floating in the ocean, wondering if I had lost my direction.
Throughout her life, she hoarded her Sunday best for ends-of-the-week that never came. Actually, Sundays did come; she just didn’t show up for them. Like a pirate, she kept her treasures hidden in a chest, buried under the sand. She never fully and truly enjoyed the things she loved.
As I cleared out my mother’s things from her home, I took stock of my own inventory and decided that every day of the week would be fitting for Sunday best, that my earthly treasures would see the light of day, get dirty and live -- live life to the fullest. Sometimes, I do chores in one of my expensive silk dresses. Why not? I’m not saving my best for a day that may never come. And I show up, believe me, I show up; the best of me must never be buried under the sand. I don’t save my best china for company. I am my own best friend. I treat her royally as I would any guest who walks through my door.
There's a lesson here about hospitality: treat others like you would treat yourself and treat yourself like you would treat others. Whenever there's a disconnect, you see the true colors of a destination. No wonder I liked Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; there was always a seamless connection.
So here at Sunny Shores, I reveled, like a little girl playing dress-up, in wearing a necklace that I had won at a charity auction four years prior in Boca Grande, another beach in Florida that is dear to my heart. I had never worn it; what was I waiting for? The stunning piece of jewelry, which was crafted by a local artist, caught my eye because it told a story of the sea: pearls strung together held together by two pewter fish swallowing each other’s tails, resembling the sea creatures inked on to the vellum of ancient maps.
The symbol of a snake or dragon swallowing its own tail, the ourobouros, is an ancient one and embodies the romance of self: every woman is an island, ever-evolving: every beginning an end and every end a beginning.
I poured myself a glass of wine and contemplated the map on the wall. I noticed an inlet. My galleon was anchored, rocking gently side to side as gentle waves caressed its hull. In the galley, I studied a navigational map and thought about charting a new course in my life, regenerating, recreating and reviving my spirit, which had become jaded, its brightness dulled by the dead-end hustle of my life in Miami.
I walked over to my laptop, which was on the desk, open and plugged into the outlet, waiting for me to write. I closed its cover, shut it down and told it to rest. “You need a vacation, too, you know.”
My notebook and pen came back with to the couch.
Can you hold a grain of sand or drop of water in your hand? As impossible as that sounds, as impractical as it may seem, defying the laws of physics even: yes, yes absolutely yes I can, because then I can truly enjoy my Sunday best every day and relish the simple little gifts that bring beauty and joy into my life. What I have doesn’t define me. Who I am, naked and raw, is what sets me free.
Hoarding possessions is dangerous. Consumerism, greed, selfish vanity, the burden of being owned by things -- all this swallows us whole. Those are the real sea creatures to fear in the perilous crossings of our lives and we sink, weighed down, without direction.
We can choose to look at ourselves swallowing our own tail in two ways: a cycle of renewal, the promise of dawn, the sun always rising, the sea always coming in waves -- traveling light. Or we can also let ourselves drown, weighed down by the things that don’t matter, consumed by our drive to possess that which doesn’t even belong to us, neglecting the very heart that beats and keeps us alive -- traveling with a load too big to bear.
“That’s a beautiful necklace,” he said. He kissed me on the cheek and we walked hand-in-hand along the shore at sunset.
Later that night, while he slept soundly, I put on my silk robe -- another daily extravagance that I’m not saving for that elusive Sunday, those many Sundays that my mother never enjoyed, because she wouldn’t renew herself each day. I opened my notebook once more.
And speaking of romance: how quick I’ve been sometimes to let the drama of my ancient relationships, etched deeply now into my heart with scary dragons and sea serpents, map out what I thought this relationship should be. How easily I’ve let the past swallow us whole. Am I going to mess this one up, too? How many shipwrecks does it take to finally sail with the wind, not against it? Am I going to steer clear of obstacles or let the storms blow me into a reef ?
How about I just let this relationship be whatever it needs to be, let it chart its own course, guided, like old sailors, by the stars and simple things that fill our days with love, like quiet walks along the shore. Let every moment be a Sunday for us, even when we’re naked together, heart to heart, sailing in uncharted seas with nothing but ourselves to carry on the journey. You are my Sunday best, my love, my treasure in plain sight.
Next story: Windjammer Resort and Beach Club, Day 1
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Disclosure: this travel experience was supported by The Lodging Association of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. All opinions my own.