The sun is sinking in the sky as I watch the waves roll in.
It is October. We’ve been Southerners-turned-Californians for a month. It is hot outside, hotter than I thought it would be. I am looking for a job.
I have been looking for a job every day. I sleep too late. I go to the public library. I dig through the bargain bins at the grocery store, see how much food I can buy with twenty-five dollars. I play fetch with the cat. I walk around the labyrinth of graduate student apartments until the midday heat is too much.
And I look for a job.
It’s been just a month, but I am already panicked. I keep ten browser tabs open. Temp agencies, Craigslist ads, calls for medical study volunteers, human resources from all the area colleges. Mint.com, which makes me more panicked with its angry red bars that mean there’s more money going out than coming in. I feel helpless. I have no idea how people stand unemployment for years.
Josh comes in the door as I am walking back and forth, bedroom to kitchen to living room to spare room. “I need to get a job,” I tell him. “I still don’t have a job.”
I sit down in the bedroom with a cup of tea, and ten minutes later, I hear a knock. “I wanted to see,” he says, “if you want to go to the beach. You just seem like you might like a beach day.”
Josh hates the beach. He hates the way sand sticks between his toes, hates the way you have to wear sandals (which he doesn’t have). Hates the sunburn he will inevitably get, hates that there is too much of a glare to use his computer and nothing to lean back against.
I want to tell him no, he shouldn’t do this just for me.
I remember the board games I’ve played, the Panera dates we’ve had, the quiet evenings in, the pizza dinners. Love is a giving and a taking, a high and low tide.
I say yes.
We walk the steps down to La Jolla Cove, and we are shaded by the cliffs. When the waves roll in, they nearly swallow up the small beach. We spread out a blanket and read our books as the air grows cool. Me, The Poisonwood Bible. Josh, The Ascetic Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. The Pacific is freezing cold, but there are swimmers in bathing caps, snorkelers in wetsuits, teenagers in bikinis laughing as they sun themselves on the rocks.
I do not see the wave coming. It crashes against a rock and soaks us. We are wet: blanket, towel, Trader Joe’s Guilt-Free Pita Chips. I laugh as we shelter the books, carry the damp bag and soaking wet blanket.
It is high tide.
A week later, the pastor at a Methodist church we’d visited in San Diego tells me about a job opening. That same day, I sit in a Starbucks and write my application. Two days later, I interview. The next day, my phone rings. They are excited to invite me to join the staff.
A month after that, I interview at a pizza joint, to be a delivery driver in the evenings. I start the next day.
It comes so quickly. Just like that, it is high tide.
The sun is sinking deep in the sky again as I watch the waves roll in last week.
It’s been weeks since I’ve been to the coast. I live five miles from the beach, an easy drive, but some days I forget that we live so near the ocean. Last week, I met in the conference room where I interviewed three months ago, this time to have my probationary interview. “We are so excited that you’re part of our church,” the chair says. I beam. I am excited I am part of this, too.
The past few months have been a flurry of Christmas preparations, volunteers to call, supplies to buy, lessons to plan, names to learn. It is tiring, but it is good work. The hours are strange. Sometimes I drive home from my office, change into my pizza girl uniform at home, and start my hourly work. I cut and box pizzas, mop the floors, take the orders. I drive the orders in my Buick, and I listen to books, good ones and trashy ones: Anne Lamott and Stephen Colbert, Joan Didion and Twilight. I keep peanuts and Wheat Thins in the car. I work strange hours. It is high tide.
I have always wanted balance. I want to host friends for dinners, work forty hours a week, wash the dishes promptly, call my friends once a week, write and post every day. I want to find the perfect ratio of work and family and worship and rest, as if life was an equation to be solved.
But I am giving up on balance. I am no Gabby Douglas, lithe and graceful on a six-inch-wide beam. I am too messy for that.
I’m with Gretchen Rubin, who writes, “Instead of pursuing the impossible goal of balance, I sought to cram my life with the activities I loved.” I’m with a seminary classmate, whose parents said they weren’t busy, they had a full life.
Maybe there is no “balance” in life. But there are seasons. There is high tide and low tide.
I have an afternoon off last week as I walk along the beach in La Jolla. There is work to do, but now there is time. Time to read, stretched on a rock. Time to watch the pelicans, large as a man, fish for their supper. Time to drink a latte as the sun sets over the ocean. Time to pray as night falls: Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold your vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I breathe deep.
The tide is coming in, and the tide is going out.