Sea is my element. If I haven’t fully understood it before, now I know it. Having stayed inland for more than three weeks I remember the sudden burst of excitement I got when I first filled my lungs with the salty smell of the sea on the way towards Bluefields on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. And when I closed my eyes on the boat-ride that finally took me to Bluefields the sound of the engine and waving motion of the boat immediately sent me to my childhood boat-rides to our summer cottage. Next evening eating in a restaurant built literally above the sea on poles I was looking out in the darkness when I noticed two lights – the left one green and the right one red – somewhere in the darkness. A warm sense of familiarity, emphasis on the famili-part, filled me as I knew that it was a boat approaching the harbor.
Childhood is when the basic elements of our identity are put into the place; who are we and where we belong to. And the sea was strongly present in my childhood. If someone would ask me what is my favorite place on earth I would immediately know the answer: a certain tiny island in the Finnish Gulf of the Baltic Sea. That’s where my family’s summer cottage is and where all my childhood summers were spent. Except of course for my dad’s month long summer vacation which was spent on a sailing boat. Calculating these summer months on a sailing boat together with the nine months I spent in the Finnish navy ships whilst serving the obligatory military service I could say that before the age of twenty I had spent around two years of my life sleeping on boats surrounded by the salty water.
Now I am 9.844 kilometers and one ocean away from there, in a different culture and without having met a single person from my home country in over a month. Traveling alone for such a long time one can’t avoid the moments of homesickness. Although one meets a lot of people, sometimes the loneliness grows on you and you look sadly into the distance thinking about and longing to the people and places dear to you. But when I got to the sea, half of all this was suddenly gone. That’s because I grew up with the sea. It is as much a part of my story as are many people who are close to me. Sea is part of my identity, it is part of my answer to the question ’where I belong to’. It is like a good friend – almost a member of the family. So when I am with the sea, I am no longer alone.
That’s also why sea is able to inject meaningfulness to whatever place or activity that is connected to it. Watching a sunset with a dear friend is a different experience than watching it with some random acquaintance. Although one does not speak too much, just knowing that the other is there makes the experience more meaningful. It is people we love who make our lives meaningful. That’s why experiences and activities connected to people one care about feel meaningful. And that’s why the meaning of life is to make oneself meaningful for other people. For me, the same applies to the sea. As it is like a dear friend to me, anything connected with the sea is more meaningful for me. Sense of belonging is a basic human need and I belong with the sea.