One summer evening, I chatted with a friend on his balcony overlooking a beach on the eastern shore of St. Croix.  I was mesmerized by the moon, the dark clouds, the salty aroma of the sea, the crashing waves, and the comforting breeze flowing westward over the island. 

We spoke of many things, but the topic often drifted back to the strong feelings bubbling up inside of me for the Caribbean. "I must move back," I told Richard.  I miss my family, my culture, my dialect, the weather and the sea - the immense power and beauty of the sea. 

I spent lots of time on the beach as a child, swimming and frolicking with relatives and friends.  And occasionally, my parents would pile us all into the car at night, and we would drive slowly along roads near the beach, hunting for succulent crabs to flavor Mom's kallaloo

My paternal grandmother, "Baby" Ann Reiner, was born at sea, aboard a vessel that left the island of Montserrat, en route to St. Croix.  And the last time I saw my cousin, Junito, the family fisherman, he was returning from sea with a small bounty of fish for his loyal customers. 

I would like my children to have a relationship with the sea, as well. So when Malcolm (my eldest son) and I became certified scuba divers two years ago, another world opened for him - a world that doesn't mirror the harshness and violence of inner city, Oakland, where we now live.  "It was peaceful," he said, after ascending from a 40-minute dive in which he explored lush coral gardens from a depth of 80 feet.  "It was like being in the woods." 

I also took both sons for leisurely walks along the Frederiksted pier at night, during my most recent trip home. "Catch anything?" I would ask, as we strolled by folks who were fishing. Ras Shabazz, a local "revolutionary," artfully reeled in a barracuda after a 20 minute struggle that seemed more like a dance. "Hold the line," Shabazz told me, while he jockeyed for a better position on the pier.   

I fumbled with the line.  It was clear to me that Ras Shabazz has an understanding of the sea that most of us will never have.  But we can still marvel at the wonders of this queendom - like the leatherback turtle that suddenly appeared on the left side of the pier. We all raced to the edge for a closer view, as this majestic creature glided westward for the open sea.  No church has ever succeeded in moving my spirit the way this being did so effortlessly. And I reject the notion that nature cannot lead us to the divine -- that the "word of God" can flow from the pulpit, but not from a blade of grass, nor from a dweller of the sea.  Such thinking is sheer human arrogance. 

Surely, the leatherback served as priest that evening.  I tell my children that church is anyplace or anything that stirs the soul.  I have been touched by leatherbacks on more than one occasion. Sandypoint, St. Croix is a nesting ground for these ancient reptiles that have roamed the earth's oceans for some 150 million years; they sometimes visit us from as far away as New Zealand. But the leatherbacks are endangered, and more must be done to protect them. 

The Virgin Islands are also home to the largest (and second longest) coral reef system in the Caribbean.  And this, too, needs to be safeguarded.  Coral reefs, says the website from the National Ocean Service, "are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth" and "many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses and other diseases." 

Sometimes referred to as rainforests of the sea, "coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage and loss of life. Reef's also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support."  

I?ve only recently learned about the significance of coral reefs. There is great wisdom and wealth in the waters that surround us.  The sea invites us to live with greater intensity -- to immerse ourselves in that which is truly profound.  Flow with these currents, my friend.  You'll emerge with deeper eyes, and a much deeper heart.

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