As we moved the curtains from the window of our hotel room, we saw the ocean raging. There were red ‘no swimming’ signs fluttering in the breeze as far as we could see.

“Wow, Poseidon is angry today!” I thought. The fury was awe inspiring and also humbling.

Sean and I went to the Outer Banks, North Carolina for our 26th anniversary to spend a few days by the ocean. There was a storm brewing not too far from the coast so the rip currents were deadly. Since swimming in the water was dangerous, we decided to walk on the beach, feeling the wind on our faces and the misty spray of the ocean. There is nothing peaceful in the crash of the high waves yet I felt peaceful. I think the continuity and the assurance that each wave will be followed by another was reassuring. In the shifting landscape of my life, where uncertainty about my very existence and those of my loved ones leaves me unsettled, the constant rhythm of crashing waves salvaged my bruised soul. Instead of the ocean, Sean and I decided to immerse ourselves in the golden rays of sunsets instead.

There were many moments in this trip that will stay with me for a long time. Here are some of those.

On September 8th, the day of our anniversary, we decided to drive to Duck, NC to see the town and find a place to eat. After a dinner of Mediterranean cuisine, we walked along the boardwalk to see the quaint seaside stores and restaurants.

We still had a little time before the sun to set so we decided to drive to the next town, Corolla. As we drove down the narrow road, listening to music and talking, we lost track of time – sunset was imminent but there was no place to pull over to watch the glory. Just as I was giving up hope, we found the entrance to the Historic Corolla Park, complete with a lighthouse. We pulled in, parked and ran to the water bank as the sun was close to touching the horizon, spreading molten gold rays all over us. We were awash in its glory, wonder and love. We looked at each other in that moment. What a perfect anniversary gift was that sunset.

A couple of days later, the breeze had died down and the ocean had quietened. We decided to spend the morning at the beach, me reading and soaking in the gentle sun and Sean feeling the ocean. As a wave crashed on him and he turned around, ready to be crashed upon, there was an expression of uninhibited joy and exhilaration on his face that touched my heart. I will always remember that expression – expectant, joyful.

We wanted to see sunset from the dunes. Jockey’s Ridge State park, we read, was home to the tallest living sand dune system in the Atlantic ocean. It was close to our hotel so we decided to catch the sunset there. After parking, we started hiking up a dune. Neither of us knew what was beyond the sand hill. As we crested the dune, the world of sand open up – a huge expanse of sand was in front of us flanked by the ocean far away. And the sun was setting, coloring the yellow sand in golden pinkish hue. We were golden too. The moment when we climbed up the hill and looked what was ahead of us was so poignant and beautiful that I will remember it for a long time.

Everytime I am near the ocean the continuity of the waves gives me a sense of grounding. Despite the upheavals in our lives, one wave will follow the other. This absolute truth is comforting and peaceful.


Wearing ethnic clothes in a foreign land

I have always worn colorful kurtis to work during the summer months here in USA. Every year I went home and bought inexpensive but beautiful cotton kurtis and brought them back with me. When I first opened my suitcase and held them up, I smelled the quintessential smell of Kolkata. The fragrance enveloped me the first few times I wore those shirts till the smell of detergent, after a few washes, erased the trace of home. I wore them because they were colorful, the cotton felt comfortable on my skin and they made me feel beautiful. They were meticulously chosen by both ma and baba, with some input from me sometimes.

Things have changed now. Instead of kurtis and dress pants (or jeans) to work, I often wear salwar kameez with custom jewelry from home along with a stick on bindi. Many of the outfits belonged to my ma. When I wear them, I feel wrapped in her love. It makes me feel close to her, and baba too, since he chose many of the fabric. I always fought with her growing up when she wanted to dress me up in her style. I lived my teens in t-shirt and jeans and rebelled against Indian outfits except an occasional saree for a special day. These days, though, as my bond to my country frays I cling on to the clothes.

I have noticed something when I wear salwars to work. The older South Asian (and South East Asian) men and women who come to visit their families over the summer look at me and give me a hesitant smile. We live in a diverse community. Our library sees customers from different parts of the world. During summer, their elderly parents come to visit them. And they come to the library accompanying their sons, daughters, grandchildren. I notice their hesitation, their uncertainty and discomfort in a foreign place. I recognize this as I have seen my parents feel this way, out of place, in a country where they did not understand the language very well. However, when these men and women, many of the women wearing sarees or salwars themselves, see my outfit, they make eye contact with me. They either stare or smile. I often smile (behind my mask these days) and with the smile I reassure them that they are welcome here. Not just me in my ethnic wear but all my colleagues, other public library workers, are happy that you came.

Representation matters.