Much of what I learned walking every day on the SouthWest Coastal Path was to embrace the journey. To not take the moments that filled my days for granted. To be aware of each gift given to me and wrap myself in them with gratitude. My afternoon on the St. Ives Bay was a reminder of how easily I pass up significant gifts that the world gives to me, and that if I took the time to look up from the ground in front me, I would see that there are endless moments of wonder and beauty.
As I was walking along the grassy land of St. Ives Bay, on my way to stay in Hayle, I came across a white lighthouse that was set on a small island in the ocean. Walking to the end of the little peninsula to which the trail stretched, I watched as people stopped and took photos of the isolated lighthouse. I decided as beautiful as it was, I was not going to take a photo with my phone, because I had limited memory left and I had already taken more photos of lighthouses than fit my lighthouse photo quota. Turning to head back to land, I heard a clicking noise below me. It got louder as I walked inland until I could identify the sound of a typewriter. I looked down from the raised land and saw in the grass below a man in a chair behind a foldout table with a typewriter and a book typing away as he faced the island and the lighthouse.
Traveling alone, I became at least 10 times more curious a creature than when I am with people. I knew I had to stop and ask him what was going on. His name was Tim Youd - a visual artist from L.A. He explained that he was working on a series called the “Typewriter Series” where he was retyping 100 novels in 5 years on the same make and model typewriter that the author used to write his/her novel and in a place that is significant to the piece of literature. With only two pieces of paper, Tim was typing the novel word for word on two pieces of paper placed on top of one another. The paper became one black rectangle as the ink of the letters bled into a black mass. The two pieces of paper became a visual representation of the novel in its entirety.
I asked him what novel he was typing and he told me that it was Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Beyond my better judgement I shouted “STOP. I MEAN STOP. SHUT UP! That is my favorite book!” He smiled and said how wonderful that was. It hit me that the lighthouse he was sitting in front of was THE lighthouse. It was Woolf’s lighthouse. The one she wrote about in her masterpiece. It was the lighthouse she and her family came to visit every year on vacation. The serendipity and wonder of the moment overwhelmed me.
Tim told me how glad he was that I stopped to talk with him. He told me about when he first began the series and how he hated it when people would stop and ask about his project. He wrote a sign his first day explaining what he was doing and not to bother him and placed it beside him. But then he realized that it was an integral part of the process for him to interact with his audience. That he should be open and excited to share his series with people organically. He said he embraced that part of the journey and is excited to meet people like me who have an incredible connection to what he is doing. He realized he was missing out on a significant part of his visual performance - connection, interaction.
Without stopping to talk with Tim, I would have never known that I was passing the Godrevy Lighthouse, the lighthouse I first read about in college when I was falling in love with the words of Virginia Woolf. As I walked away from Tim and the gift that he had given me, I thought of these words from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse that pierced me the first time I read them:
“She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of - to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and doing, expansive glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others...and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”
I felt so fully myself in that moment. I felt unbelievably alive. I was able to step out of the noise that I had built around my life and just be. As I continued to embrace these incredible gifts given to me, I allowed them to change me. To soften me. To work into the cracks of my being and soak into my core. I knew that as I continued to give all of myself to these significant moments, I would continue to change. I would continue to move toward something more free.
When I finished the trail in Poole, I asked a couple walking by to take photos of my running into the water. They looked at me as if I had just asked them to give me all their money, but they eventually decided they would humor me. I had become accustomed to experiencing breakthroughs with complete strangers along my journey. I allowed myself to embrace the sometimes intense moments of transformation and let others watch in either confusion or intrigue.
As close as I had become with my companion, the ocean, I had not touched it at all along the entire trail. I had breathed it in, listened to its rhythmic song, and let it guide me and teach me along the way, but I had not even put my hands in it. At the end of the trail, before hopping on the ferry and heading to my last destination, I took off my pack and ran full force into the ocean. I let it swallow me whole. As I immersed my entire body into the body of my fluid and loyal friend, I let the water push all of the good I had received deep into me as it simultaneously pulled and released everything I had freed my hands of along the way. In one way, I felt completely fluid as if I myself had become part of the ocean. But in another way, I felt solidified and strong. I felt completely whole and ready to head home in fearless hope.
My journey was a sobering fire of transformation. One I will be grateful for forever.
On the plane ride home, it was uncanny sitting in my seat, remembering how I felt flying to England. I was in the greatest sense a different person. I had on the exact same outfit as I did on my last plane ride, I sat in almost the same row, and the same sun shined on my face as I looked out the window. But I could feel the miles I had walked in the soles of my feet and I could feel every moment on the trail so fully as I closed my eyes. I could hear the crashing of the waves and feel the wind sweep across my face and see the face of each person who showed me kindness and love along the way. I had been marked forever. Wrecked and changed in the best way possible. I had learned to love and to truly, so truly live.
When I stepped off the plane back in Charlotte, NC, I walked down the escalators to the baggage claim where I was greeted by the kindest human being I’ve ever known, my husband. The man I had learned to long for again and to love more deeply than I knew was possible. Through a commitment to the fight, we had finally found each other again. Both of us changed forever and both of us ready to live in a love that runs deeper than the ocean itself.