In the opening of the novel, the main character, once the young bride, now an old old woman facing the end of her life without his hand to hold, describes a visit with a stranger--the someone who had found this letter in a bottle, and had made an incredible journey to return the bottle and letter to her.
I’ve lost track of the book (I was a librariy assistant at the time and read a lot of old books) but I have always remembered how moving it was. I’m a romantic and I love the ocean. In a world where technology has made everything complicated and basically removed much of the mystique from life, the idea that this message to the universe could mark a single moment appealed to me. Succinct and personal. Two people marking an important moment, essentially saying to the universe, "from right now, no matter what tosses us about, we will go forward together." Then, this message-containing wine bottle gets plunged rather unceremoniously into the vastness of the ocean where it gets tossed about by waves, smashed against reefs, maybe swallowed up by a whale, dinged up by boat anchors, or any of a thousand other things that happen in the ocean.
This idea grabbed my attention long ago and from time to time over the years, I’ve considered how I might incorporate this into my life. We live no where near the ocean but at least a couple times a year we become seafarers for a short stint. I am enthralled by the blues of the ocean, the power it contains and generates and the life that it both gives and takes. The ocean is the ultimate combination of power, beauty, fury and grace. If ever there was a metaphor for marriage, surely it’s the ocean!
I’m the very lucky girl who married Joal Devendorf when we were both just 19. We met on the very first day of college and it was love for both of us. He was a rock-n-roll boy with a guitar and a song, and lots of dreams. I was the quiet artsy girl who fell hard and fast. Sixteen months later we said "I do" in a very traditional church ceremony as was our community tradition. There were no oceans involved basically because I had not yet discovered this love of the sea life.
Fast forward to October 2016. Joal and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in October, even though our actual anniversary wasn’t until December 21. We took a little trip over to Charleston, South Carolina and hung out at our favorite beach spot together for a week. We celebrated with an amazing dinner at a beautiful southern restaurant downtown where the florals are big and fresh and the linens are crisp and white. The wine flowed. The service defined by words like impeccable, refined and proper. During dinner we remembered the good things we’ve shared together and the things we have struggled through. The seafood was divine. We learned what a charcuterie is. It was an evening worthy of being twenty five years in the making with the only man I have ever loved.
Somewhere along the way, when we were planning our 25th trip, I began to think that this could be my "message in a bottle" moment. During that week at the beach on Isle if Palms, I picked up a pen and paper and wrote a letter to the universe about our life together and our love. I write about how grateful I am to have shared the path of my life walking beside him. I wrote about the gentle and powerful ways he has loved me and the things that being married has taught me. It took a few drafts because hey, I tend towards the wordy side, but in the end, the letter was a single sheet summary of the things I love about him and the adventures we have shared. Fortunately, I have rather small and legible penmanship. I signed it with a flourish and included every conceivable avenue of contact available at this time in history. I wish that I had saved the wine bottle from our meal at Magnolia but I didn’t think about it in time.
Because I’m a photo girl, I wanted to include 2 photos--a wedding photo and a current photo of us together. Because those two pictures were at home, I knew we couldn’t drop it in the ocean until at least our next ocean voyage, which would be a cruise in March 2017. Right around the trip in March, I moved my office from one part of the house to another and things got chaotic. When it came time to pack, I couldn’t lay my hands on the envelope holding the letter and the pictures.
This past week we cruised again down to the Caribbean (it’s an annual thing) and just to be safe, I put the letter and photos in a spot where they wouldn’t be forgotten a whole month before we left. The trick of pulling this off is that it is really hard to pack an empty wine bottle and get it on board a cruise ship. (The cruise line has picky rules about these things.) On board, on the first evening we had a bottle of wine at dinner (shared with friends) but I got distracted from the mission and completely forgot to snag the empty bottle and cork before it was removed.
Finally, on the last evening of our cruise, our friends--the Fords finished a bottle of Shiraz so I picked up the empty bottle and the cork. It’s adds to the sentiment that it was theirs, as they have been instrumental in Joal’s work success and present for many of our cruise adventures.
After dinner, Joal and I rolled my letter and the photos tightly (a task that’s not as easy to accomplish as one might think) and slid it into the green wine bottle. I shoved the cork into the top. At a few minutes past ten, somewhere off the coast of the Bahamas, steaming towards Florida, in the most beautiful turquoise water, (probably in violation of some rules about littering), we stood on our ninth deck balcony together and he lobbed it off the ship and into the Caribbean Ocean.
It was dark so there are no pictures but it’s not something I will soon forget. We heard it plunk into the sea.
It was the highlight of my trip to finally toss that bottle into the sea. We marked our moment. Someday, maybe when I’m 99, I hope there will be an email or a phone call or whatever from a stranger who ran across a message in a bottle on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean. I can promise you I’ll still be loving this man and hopefully still having seafaring adventures with him. ❤️