There’s something about going through a difficult patch. When your sense of self – who you are and what you’re doing with your life – is shaken. Something that helps bring things into focus and align your best intentions for yourself. In the way that you really notice true, deep joy after a period of adversity.
Like the calm after a storm.
When you’re living on a small tropical island in the Caribbean, as I have been for the past three years, there’s always the sea. Whichever direction you drive in, you’ll come across it before too long, sometimes it’s a shock of colour: pure turquoise, a flat-calm horizon. Then it’s deep blue with white lines of sea-foam that form a steady rhythm, rolling in, rolling in. But it’s always there, like a distant memory. It underpins everything in Barbados. It’s the lifeblood of this place.
On Saturdays we have our routine, and it’s a pretty special one – I know that! I appreciate it deeply. I know that our days here are not unlimited and that one day we’ll be back in London, meandering around the park behind the children, walking home along the grey pavemented streets wrapped up in scarves.
Here, we bundle into the car barefoot, and drive five minutes along the coast road to Pebbles Beach, the ironically named stretch of pure white sand where you won’t find a single pebble apart from the odd piece of interestingly shaped coral. It’s a bay that curves round to the island’s small capital, Bridgetown, and it’s crystal clear cyan waters that shimmer in the sun, are the perfect spot for paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling and just being part of the sea.
After a frustrating week, where anxiety and fear surrounding our next move (not London, but another job overseas) got the better of me and I had nothing but the worst left to give, I spent too much time trying to work. I spent time trying to write, feeling tired, getting distracted and snapping at the kids. It was a huge relief to be out, in a place where I could see the horizon stretching out in front of me.
We sat under a huge red sun umbrella on beach chairs and ate grilled fish sandwiches looking out to sea. And it was then that I started to allow myself just to be here. I started to believe that things could work out. I could hear the record, that was going round on a loop in my head, for what it was. And I turned it off, at least for a while.
Then I had my chance. And I headed into the water alone with a snorkle mask, to swim and explore beneath the surface, which wasn’t something I’d ever done in this bay before.
The sea was warm against my skin and as I dived in and swam with my mask in the water, out towards the reef, I was suddenly completely weightless, gliding with each stroke, like a bird. As I propelled myself along the surface while looking down at the sea bed, I realised that I was seeing things for the first time. This reef had always been there. It was the water I’d swam and splashed in with the kids hundreds of times. But now the light moved across the white sea bed in a scattered web of diamonds. Constantly moving.
Shoals of small silver fish darted around the rocks. There was suddenly a star fish beneath me, glowing red. Black and yellow striped sargeant major’s were weaving silently between the coral and a green coconut shell.
With every big wave, the sand on the sea bed would rise up and swirl before gently settling again. The skeleton of a leaf with it’s edge caught under a rock, seemed to dance, as though it could hear the music of the sea.
I was amazed at this other-world. I even laughed out loud at a huge, spiny bloated puffer fish that seemed to be after something on the floor, moving quickly this way and that. Then a large pearly piece of coral moved and I saw an eye, and a tail, as a flat fish that covered its surface moved an inch, betraying it’s camouflage.
For the first time since I’d entered the sea, I wondered how far out I’d swam. And as I lifted my head out of the water the sounds came flooding back. Reggae music, children playing, the sound of the waves. I got my bearings and heard my breath. I hadn’t gone far at all and was just past a buoy in water I’d swam through many times.
Before I started to swim back I looked out towards the horizon, at the boats bobbing on the water a bit further out, and realised that although they were anchored now, they would be set free. They would, if they were lucky, cast out into unknown waters. That was their purpose.
And with my face above the water I made my way to the shore. Noticing the ripples I was making on the surface. Part of this world again.