My toes dug deep in the cold sand; my overgrown traveler hair swept carelessly across my naked back. The night was dark, except for in the sky, where the brightest stars I had ever seen brilliantly gleamed above me. I laid back in the sand to observe their dance; behind me, the palm trees towered and swayed. I could hear the waves ripping across the water, slowly crashing in a hypnotic rhythm along the shoreline. I closed my eyes to whisper a prayer of gratitude. I wondered how much of the scene I could bottle up and bury in my soul.
Twelve months earlier my husband and I boarded a plane to Madrid, Spain. Within only a few months’ time we had quit our jobs, sold our house, and packed sixty liter backpacks for a year of travel.
Drowning is the only analogy I can think of to describe the life we left behind. After marrying young and graduating college, we were building our empire upon cushy jobs and suburbia. We had traded our youth for salaries and our marriage for a kitchen remodel. One by one we were checking off the societal expectation boxes. After four years, we could barely breath. Our world revolved around desk jobs and Netflix. I didn’t recognize my life or my husband, and I certainly didn't recognize myself.
The decision to leave was a Hail Mary in the final play—a grasping for air, last-ditch effort to save our souls. It was our chance to change the course, to swim upstream and reroute ourselves to the road less traveled. So we went back to our roots and asked heavy questions. Who are we? What do we love and where do we thrive?
The answers sat in dusty photo albums, hidden beneath the bills on our coffee table. Rwanda. South Korea. Belize. Germany. The albums from our college backpacking trips lay patiently amongst our chaotic life, waiting to reveal our next steps. Travel was what we loved; it was where we thrived. Our souls begged us to dive back in.
In response, we sold all we owned and boarded a plane with one-way tickets to Spain. Over the year, we played in the waves of the Mediterranean Sea and hiked snow-covered mountains in Scandinavia. We learned of the dark history in Poland and sipped holy beer in Belgian fields. We watched elephants play while riding motorcycles through Thailand’s rice terraces and the Himalayan mountains showed us how to reach heaven.
Colombia seduced us with Spanish, dancing, and intoxicating cups of coffee. And then Patagonia wrecked us for the better, revealing its jagged mountains, endless glaciers, and magical fjords. Traveling for a year destroyed us in the best way possible. It was both swift and steady, working persistently to chip away at the empire we had built. We would never be the same.
The journey beseeched us, imploring us to open our eyes and discover our souls. We thrived and lived; we found ourselves and fell in love. Our tongues tasted new languages and flavors; our ears heard the most beautiful melodies among the silent stars.
We rode on trains and planes, boats and cars. For weeks we lived in a van on the Chilean coast, eating fresh fish and bathing in the ocean. We trekked high and dove deep, both physically and spiritually. We lived alone and with others; we breathed love and fear and hope and sorrow.
And we fought—both for and against our marriage. We stripped down, naked and exposed to where we had been and where we were going—all our scars and wounds revealed. It was hard and painful; the conversations and truths rolling in as frequent as the tide. But when we surfaced for air, it never tasted so sweet. We found what is required to love deep and live in grace. We made love and plans, promises and vows. We watched our walls crumble, and then we picked up our hammers to rebuild.
I thought about it all that night, this insane and wild journey, while sitting on the beach in Costa Rica, my toes still deep in the sand. The warm water foamed at my ankles, kissing my feet and washing my soul with promises from the sea. It was abundantly rich.
What seemed to be an hour passed before I rejoined my husband down the shore. We were at this beach because of our new friend Sergio, a Tico and self-proclaimed turtle whisperer. He had offered to take us to a turtle nesting ground on the final night of our journey. I was skeptical, as it wasn’t turtle nesting season, but Sergio was kind and we decided to trust him. If anything, it was a final adventure before returning home.
I found my way to my husband’s side, sitting myself next to him in the sand and leaning my head on his shoulder. It wasn’t long before we heard footsteps running our way; Sergio's shadow appeared in the distance.
“Come!” he whispered loudly before turning around and disappearing into the night.
We hurried in his direction, being careful to not step on translucent crabs and broken coconut shells scattered on the beach.
“Over here!” he beckoned; he waved at us from a grove of palm trees a hundred meters away. His frail body looked like it might topple over from the force of his gestures.
We approached the grove, curious and suspicious. I already felt overwhelmed by the journey we’d been on. My soul was full; the world had been so kind to me. I felt grateful, ready to pass the baton. While I didn’t need to be gifted any more wonder, I would soon discover the world wasn’t done with me yet. Standing among the palms, I met Sergio’s gaze as he bent down in the sand.
“Look,” he mouthed without a sound. I followed his eyes to the faint movement in the dirt. A tiny flipper protruded from the earth, followed by a round head with two sleepy eyes. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
I dropped to my knees, watching as the newborn took his first breath of air. Remarkably, he lifted his delicate face to the sky, greeting the world around him. My heart felt like it would burst right there among the palm trees. Why was I chosen to witness this new life? Not as part of a tour or in an organized trip, but with my husband, our friend Sergio, and the sea. Our final night of the journey, this baby’s first breath of life. Both the end and the beginning. A most brilliant antithesis.
“Welcome, little one,” I whispered, tears filling my eyes. As if waiting for my salutation, he used his fins to push himself from the nest. Eight brothers and sisters soon followed.
Sergio was ecstatic and overwhelmed. Claiming to have protected these babies from greedy poachers, he spoke life over the infants while smoothing out the sand for their crawl to the water.
We joined him, clearing rock and debris from the babies’ path. They hustled and shuffled; not even five minutes old, the little sea turtles were already fearless. They understood their purpose; they knew who they were. Within seconds of birth, they heard and obeyed the call of the ocean—the invitation to the journey. With no time to waste, they began.
Over the course of our final night, we witnessed two different hatchings—about fifteen turtles in all—and I will never forget the sense of pride I felt as each baby was swept out in the waves. ¡Buen Viaje! we shouted as each tiny shell disappeared into the tide. We had done our part; fate would determine their future.
What a beautiful picture, to know your purpose and to obey the call. Despite the danger that awaits—the current, the predators, the physical demand—the baby turtles swim onward. Why? Because life is not lived on the shore.
Life invites us to venture far and deep, away from the comfort of our nests and palm trees. It asks us to be brave, to allow the waves to carry us through the most violent storms. But first we must scramble toward the water. We must take the plunge and enter the waves—even in the dark, silent night. It’s what we were made for.