A few years ago, I took myself on a trip.
My mom had died the year before, I’d inherited the caretaking duties of my grandmother (who’d recently forgotten who she was) and was just out of a long term relationship.
Life felt pretty dark.
To make matters worse it was also was my first holiday season parent-less, partner-less and (despite well-meaning friend’s holiday invitations) hopelessly and pitifully alone.
(Can you hear my violin? But seriously, it was dark.)
So when I heard about a sober conference happening in Hawaii, realized I knew some people going, and found I had just enough money to scrape the trip together…I took my chance.
Picture “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” but instead of a luxury resort and margaritas, there were a bunch of sober people vaping and talking about God on the beach.
I went to yoga classes overlooking the ocean, ate sickening amounts of macadamias, and stayed up late having talks about redemption, recovery, and life…mostly with people that I’d never see again.
It was delicious. It was magic. And I was still pretty damn lonely.
But then one day there was a volleyball tournament on the beach, and I decided to join in.
They called it volleyball but it was more like the crazy P.E. classes from high school—people were breaking rules left and right, ‘carrying’ the ball over the net, and hitting way out of our sand-drawn “bounds.”
It was a mess, a total betrayal to the sport, and it was awesome.
As soon as I stopped worrying about all the rules that were being broken (“keep your foot behind the serving line!”) and the fact that I didn’t know anybody, I relaxed and started to breathe.
In and out, back and forth: I focused on tracking the ball sail across the net, too concerned with diving in the sand to remember how much my life sucked.
I wasn’t worried about probate or dementia: I was worried about smearing my sunscreen on fast enough.
I learned the names of the worst players and cheered them on; I even tore my tank top off and played in my sports bra (which was an athletic first for this self-conscious prude.)
I was focused, sweaty, and…something else.
Bigger than myself, at least.
As the sun crossed the sky that day I was fixed on one thing, and one thing only: the present moment.
I was still alone but I wasn’t; I was still a part of nothing but I felt a part of everything.
“The ocean in a drop” as Rumi said much more eloquently.
I stayed on that beach all day.
As the sun went down and we were rolling up the nets, I was approached by the facilitator of the tournament.
“What’s your name?” he asked, and scribbled it onto a tiny notepad. “You’re getting MVP.”
I froze, confused.
They have MVP’s at this kind of thing?
“But…I wasn’t even the best player?” I asked, meaning it—although some people were clearly novices, there had also been some really talented players sprinkled in there too. We both knew I wasn’t one of them.
“I know,” he said, and tucked the notebook in his back pocket. “But you cheered everybody on.”
I smiled with the goofiness of a 6th grader.
When I got home I put that plastic trophy on top of my bookshelf, like a kid admiring a successful season of tee-ball: glancing at it made me smile, perk up a bit, and remember that feeling I’d found on the beach that day.
A feeling that maybe things were going to be okay.
That maybe everything could be a total mess, maybe I had no idea where I belonged, and absolutely no idea where I was going…but even that was okay.
That trophy still reminds me that maybe, just maybe, if I glance away from my problems and into the moment, I see that there’s a far bigger force at play than my small mind can fathom.
Something so large and expansive and embracing that I don’t really ever have to worry about being alone.
A power that I can only access when I forget about the "I" part of me...the "I" that is unhappy, or separate from others, or weird, or overwhelmed.
A power that is not me, and is far greater than me.
…a volleyball game never hurts, either.