Last week, for the first time since before the turn of the century (I’ve always wanted to say that), I left the state of Arizona to travel. It meant leaving my cats for four days, the longest I had ever been separated from them since their birth 11-1/2 years ago. And I knew my best friend, who loves them dearly, would make sure they did not suffer a lack of attention during my absence. Still, I looked forward to my trip, despite the rigors of things like getting to the airport on time, getting through the TSA checkpoint, and flying to Portland, Oregon. I made it through, and only got lost when I got to Oregon. I forgot that north, south, east, and west are a little different there than they are here in Phoenix. My bump of direction was completely turned around.
I had gone to visit my old friend Mouse, I say old friend because we’ve been good friends since we worked at the same construction site in the late 1970s. We both like to read, we both love cats, love all things British, and being able to sit in our own living rooms and not be bothered by anyone other than our cats. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and I was really glad to have the opportunity for even a few days of her company, and believe me, she is excellent company.
I lived in Oregon before, but I had lived over on the eastern side, in a high desert environment that I hated. I swore I would never live in another desert as long as I lived. Surprise. Guess where I’ve been for the last 38 years, and where I will likely end up for the rest of my natural life. Going to the west side of the Cascades, which I’d never spent a whole lot of time in, was a treat. It was green, oh, so green, and so many shades of green. It was a bit more humid, but it cooled off at night so that sleeping was a pleasure instead of a sweaty mess. Driving up to Mouse’s house, I couldn’t see the house from the road because of all the trees. Now to me, having that kind of environment is second only to having a river nearby like I had at home. But hundred-foot-tall evergreen trees, nice little flowers and plants, and an almost monastic silence except for an occasional car going by on the road was like heaven. There were no boomboxes, nothing really but the rustling of leaves and branches and the occasional chirp of the bird or other small critter. I was in tree-lover’s heaven.
One of the highlights of my trip was a journey of about 60 miles away to the ocean. I hadn’t seen the ocean in so very long. I visit my river every time I go home, and spend time just enjoying it and feeling peaceful there, but I had not really spent a whole lot of time near the Pacific Ocean since about the 1970s. When we got there, it was a long walk over the dunes, and even my favorite trick of walking flat-footed on loose sand didn’t prevent my shoes from accumulating a certain amount that I only found when I got home. But I walked through dunes covered with sea grasses and tiny flowers until finally there was the ocean in front of us. Another quarter-mile walk, and we found the packed sand that we could stand on and listen to the ocean.
It was a glorious day. The temperature was lovely, the sky was blue with occasional puffy white clouds, and the ocean a deep, rich blue. I was transfixed. There were people playing games around us, but all I could think about was that ocean and the peace that I felt there, and the feeling of being at home there. We stayed for some minutes before we needed to leave to get home again before dark.
As I turned and started to walk away, I felt a compunction to turn around and look just one more time. I actually did it several times. Each time I thought how hard it was to leave a place that I loved so much, and then I thought of Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt because she turned around to look at a place she had lived in, loved, and would never see again.
I think we all tend to want to look back at some place that we love as we leave it, knowing that it may be a very long time, if ever, before we return to it, and even then, it will be different than on that day of departure. I can understand why Lot’s wife wanted to turn around and take one last look. Granted, God had said not to turn and look, but she did. God punished her for it, but it’s always been hard for me to understand why such a drastic punishment for loving something and wanting just one more glance.
Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah, which was the area where Lot and his wife lived, was not exactly a place of godliness. It was a place where hospitality was not a rule, even though the desert dwellers expected a certain amount of hospitality from people they came across, whether in the cities or in tents. Two angels came to visit, and the men of the town, wanting to show their superiority and their power, wanted to get to know them in a way that was not common. Lot got the angels to his house and the crowd followed. Lot even offered his wife and his daughters to the crowd, but it wasn’t sex they wanted; they wanted to show their contempt for the newcomers in a carnal sense. They didn’t want sexual release, they wanted to shame the visitors.
That in itself makes it hard to perhaps understand why Lot’s wife would have wanted to turn around and look again at her hometown. Undoubtedly, she still had family there, and it’s not easy to think of the family going up in flames as the buildings, the trees, and everything that lived in Sodom and Gomorrah did. Maybe she had to look to believe what she had been told would happen, maybe even while praying that it wouldn’t. Still she turned and looked. Back at the ocean, even though God never told me not to turn around and look back, I still felt that to keep my heart from breaking I should just walk straight ahead.
Hopefully one day in the not too far future. I’ll be able to once again go visit Mouse, the lovely trees, and the ocean. It was hard to walk away from such beauty, power, and feeling of God being all around. I’d like to be there still.
I know I want to go back because I know God’s there just is as God is everywhere. It’s just God’s a little closer when I smell the salt air, hear the gulls cry, see the seagrass waving in the wind, and watch the waves roll onto the beach, and I have a very dear friend standing next to me. I hope you have some place that is as special to you as the ocean is to me.