A very dear friend recommended this book recently, and I am so grateful he did. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is the kind of book you pick up and don’t want put down, just from the sheer heartwarming loveliness of it. I read it over a few days while on a short vacation, and the sweetness of both my trip and this story will be staying with me for a long time.
Meet Mr. Linus Baker. He is a case worker for DICOMY, or the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. His job is to visit orphanages for magical children and produce strictly impartial reports on their efficacy. His days are largely the same: dull grey and tedious, and he is remarkable in only his studious self-effacement. That is, until a unique assignment from Extremely Upper Management puts him on a collision course with love, joy, purpose, and his very first glimpse of the ocean. Intrigued? I was, too!
The titular house is actually Marsyas Island Orphanage, a secluded place run by a Mr. Arthur Parnassus. It is full of children who will tug at your heartstrings as much as they make you laugh out loud. Nothing has prepared Mr. Baker for whatever a Chauncey is, much less a six-year-old Antichrist, and their antics drive him to apoplexy. The children are as magically unique as they are uniquely magical, and their caretaker is both mysterious and delightful. I belly laughed, I teared up, and I came back for more even as my nights turned into the wee hours of morning. Beyond the beautifully developed characters is a story about finding oneself, making space for joy, and how even one of us can help bring positive change. Oh, and love. Most of all, this story is about love. It feels like a hug down to the very last page, and I hope you love it as much as I did.
This morning I took a long walk around the neighbor with my dogs. I overheard a fellow dog walker across the street ask, “what time’s the party?” and when I rounded the corner, a little girl was twirling around in her front yard with a big bouquet of pink balloons, a shiny pink “5” floating proudly in the middle. Her mother was puttering in the yard as she twirled, and just past her in the driveway was a big inflatable slide, surely huge and and shining with promise to her little birthday girl self.
As I continued past the house, all of a sudden I caught a whiff of kids’ sunscreen, and I was instantly transported. I couldn’t help but grin, a huge ear-to-ear smile that took me totally off-guard. It was one of those olfactory memories that comes out of nowhere and takes your breath away. That smell was pure childhood summer to me — vacations up the CA coast, beach trips and running around the infield at the racetrack. Sunshine and swimming in a lake. Sandwiches, sodas, and giggles. I could practically smell the Italian bread we’d buy on our way to the races, a scent that mingled with sunscreen as my sister and I squirmed away from my mom, much more interested in lunch and the cookies that would follow than whatever hypothetical sunburn might befall us. In my mind’s eye I could see the geese that would honk and hiss at us despite our well-meaning offerings of bread (it was too good for them anyway… oh, that bread!). The grass under our feet as we ran from the far end of the infield to the other, determined to try to get a glimpse of those beautiful horses twice in one race. The feel of a cold can of black cherry Shasta I’d eagerly fish out of the cooler. Or the feel of the warm lake water of Havasu as we splashed outside the houseboat, life vests bright in the sun, and my dad eternally tidying and hanging up soggy towels. The games of Acey Deucey we’d play those evenings, betting with piles of little river stones, our foreheads slightly pink from the day despite repeated applications of sunscreen.
I had a happy childhood. Summers felt like a golden time, and that unexpected waft of sunblock on the breeze this morning made me remember just how beautiful summers can be. This year, as we stretch our wings and rediscover the world outside our front doors, I’d like to try to hold onto that golden, joyful summer spirit. We didn’t care if we were sweaty and tired. It was all about the joy of the moment… and those moments smelled like sunscreen.
Kintsugi : (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as Kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
This week we lost our oldest dog, Bailey, rather unexpectedly. He was 17 years old, so we knew our days were growing short, but it was heart-wrenching to have to suddenly say goodbye all the same. He and I had a deep bond — he was a mama’s boy in the best, sweetest sense. He saw me through many highs and lows over the pat 15 years, always patient and sweet, loving and attentive. When our other dog would run to the door to bark at a potential intruder, Bailey would head straight to my lap to protect me, his low warning woofs reverberating through his soft little body. He loved to play fetch, unceasingly bringing back his toys for yet another throw, excitement lighting up his whole face. He would sleep in the crook of my knee every night, a warm and solid assurance, until arthritis and age prevented him from getting up and down from the bed safely. Even then he slept next to my side of the bed most nights, ever devoted. He’d lick my ankles and keep me company. He loved food and treats with a zeal that matched my own, the little foodie, and ever the optimist, he’d lay on the floor near us whenever we were cooking, earning him the nickname “lil’ chef.” Family and his pack were deeply important to him — for years he’d balk at going for walks unless all of us came along. When he scratched at the grass with his hind paws, he’d leave each leg stretched back for a beat or two, like the smallest dramatic ice skater. And in his last days, his intuitive attentiveness never wavered. He was clear-eyed and trusting to the very end, showing me love even as his little body was failing him.
My heart broke on Wednesday. But I am honoring Bailey as best I can, filling the cracks with golden memories. He would want me to feel safe and loved, the way he always worked so hard to do. He will always be in my heart, and I am forever grateful to this little dog for a lifetime’s worth of trust, care, and love. Rest well, my little bear. We will be together again. I love you.
You have my heart. I’m not sure you wanted it, but it sits on your desk (in the corner) where sometimes it catches your eye and you remember (me) for a while. It beats (for you) but mostly you don’t notice. So easy to take (for granted) sitting there on the shelf, gathering dust over the years. I can’t seem to ask for it back, as much as its absence pains me, because one day (I hope) you’ll realize what a treasure it is, how rare and precious a gift it is that you have, (there) on your shelf, that you mostly can’t help but ignore.
“238. I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.
239. But now you are talking as if love were a consolation. Simone Weil warned otherwise. ‘Love is not consolation,’ she wrote. ‘It is light.’
240. All right then, let me try to rephrase. When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing but of light.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets
It is difficult, but I am trying to be a student of light. I find I get caught up in longings, in the ways I wish things could be different. It is a challenge to be content in the present moment, but I am working at it — every day.