I was angry with the ocean because I knew I was going to miss it. Even the largest lake in the Midwest would be embarrassed by a comparison. But what else? I wouldn't miss the California traffic. I'm not used to a 30 mile drive taking an hour. And a half. We ate some great food in California, but Des Moines can deliver that as well. We met some nice people, but I live in Iowa, you can't throw a stick here without hitting a nice person. So why was I so reluctant to go home?
Astronaut Marsha Ivins said in a narrative written for Wired magazine, "... on Earth, you're almost never out of touch. Anyone can reach you if they need to. But going to space, you are really out of reach... there's not much you can do about those everyday worries: Did I pay the bills? Did I feed the dog? I felt like everyday things just stopped at the edge of the atmosphere."
That's what I was going to miss. In California I was on the carefree side of the "edge of the atmosphere".
One edge of the atmosphere was the threshold of our rented condo. Inside, I could leave a slice of uneaten toast on the kitchen counter and a thieving cat wouldn't make it disappear. If I left the front door open for more than a few seconds I wouldn't be chasing our dog Maggie out of the street. The answering machine's red light never blinked, and the mailbox was always empty.
Another edge of the atmosphere was where the ocean met the beach. Once there, I could stop sucking in my stomach. I'm not famous, popular, or even well liked. But after 23 years of teaching high school, I've had about 3,500 students in my classrooms. Add to that number those students' parents, siblings, and friends, and the chance of being recognized at the local pool expands like my waistline. So, it was a relief to walk around with my less than stellar beach body without hearing someone whisper, "Wow. Monson is even fatter than I thought he was."
Anonymity can free your soul. Or at least your ab muscles.
So, it wasn't California that I was going to miss. I was going to miss the escape from of my everyday realities. But we all know vacations can't last forever. Even astronauts have to come down sometime. Marsha Ivins also wrote, "I was totally liberated from Earth. But all those earthly concerns reattached as soon as we reentered. By the time I landed, my brain was mapping out a to-do list."
On the morning of our departure, I was mildly depressed. At the end of that Iowan runway there would be a lawn to mow, cat boxes to clean, and work clothes to wear. School would resume, and instead of being a figure on a beach, I'd be teaching figures of speech. Heavy sigh.
Then I remembered a brief encounter by the Oceanside Pier.
While watching Charlotte make sandcastles, I spotted a young couple leisurely walking past. The husband's infant carrier was holding their baby daughter, and the mother was wearing a University of Iowa t-shirt. For fun I shouted at them, "Go Hawks!" but they kept walking. Moments later they paused, and the woman looked at her husband quizzically. He made a gesture towards her shirt. She turned towards us, shielded her eyes with a hand, and asked, "Are you from Iowa?"
I said yes, and I asked if they were, too. As they approached she shook her head and said, "I was born in Iowa, but my parents moved here when I was six. But my grandparents still live near Dubuque. I've been back to their farm a few times, but..." she confided, "I, I, really miss Iowa." She gave her husband a sideways glance. We chatted for a few more moments and then parted ways.
When they were out of earshot, Daphne looked at me, spread out her arms towards the ocean, and joked, "How could anyone stand here and say they miss Iowa?" At that moment, if you were to look down into the wet sand, you would see the sunlight reflected in thousands of tiny, golden mirrors.
I took the question seriously. On the flight home I thought about what I'd miss if we stayed in California. Family. Our Church. Tasty Tacos. Bare feet in the backyard grass. Autumn's falling leaves. The smell of the brisk air on a Football Friday night. Corn fields. Iowa chops. The first snow. Sledding. A February supper of crock pot chili. Our dog's smile. Friends from work. Winter's thaw. Casey's pizza... my list, Daphne's list, and Char's list would stretch on and on and on.
When our plane touched down in Des Moines, I was comfortable with my reentry.
Coming home was going to be okay. No, it was better than that. Coming home was great.