A book often finds its way into the hands and the heart of a reader at just the right moment. It can sit, unattended, for months, balancing chapters on a TBR pile, gathering dust or jockeying for a place higher up in the queue. It can rest inside a large, canvas tote filled with wrappers, receipts, and to-do lists, intended reading over a latte, or a companion to pass the time in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Books are always patient and kind awaiting their grand opening. So it was with Tyra Manning’s compelling memoir, “Where the Water Meets the Sand”. I found myself opening its pages on a hot, humid summer afternoon and closed it a few days later with tears in my eyes and hope in my soul.
In the summer of 1970, a very young Tyra and her husband, First Lieutenant Larry Hull. holding their baby daughter, bid farewell as he boarded a plane destined for Viet Nam. Before being deployed, Larry, a pilot, bought a trailer home for his young family and encouraged Tyra to continue her college education and become a teacher. They made plans for when he would have some R&R in Hawaii; they would meet where the water meets the sand. As he prepared to leave, Tyra promised Larry that he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he was killed in the war.
On February 2, 1971, First Lieutenant Larry Hull’s plane, on a secret mission under heavy enemy fire, went down in a jungle in Laos. Tyra was notified that her husband had died instantly. His body was not found. Devastated, Tyra called her mother and made plans for Larry’s funeral.
At the time of Larry’s death, Tyra was being treated for clinical depression at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Her doctor came to her room at the clinic to deliver her the horrible news.
As her father slowly faded from heart disease and her mother and father were often away for long periods of time, seeking out doctors and treatments, Tyra and her brother were cared for by relatives and friends. Her father’s early death was overwhelming and vivid in Tyra’s memory. Tyra experienced even more heartache and loss early in her early years, leading to a rebellious teen and underperformed scholastically, acute depression, addictions, and an overwhelming fear of loss. Immobilized by fear and depression and fearing the safety and well-being of her young daughter, Tyra bravely sought help at the famed Menninger Clinic, her daughter being cared for by others, much as Tyra was as a child.
Tyra eventually earned her teaching certificate, became a principal, and then a well-regarded school superintendent. A champion for children, she raised her daughter, and conquered her illnesses with courage and determination.
Her personal journey is much more, however. “Where the Water Meets the Sea” is a beacon of hope for those who battle mental health issues, bulimia, binging, purging, cutting, alcoholism, drug addictions . . . Tyra Manning’s journey is one in which there IS a light at the end of the dark tunnels of life. It is also a touchstone to those adults, myself included, who have lost a parent early in their life and a recognition of how many carry that loss with them long into adulthood.
Dr. Manning’s story is also a testament to the burden of military families, as well as of veterans, who often bear their wounds and scars in ways we cannot see. SPOILER ALERT Tyra Banks gives us a personal perspective of the uniquely heavy loss of a loved one whose body is never returned, as well as the “what if” should one’s remains be found. Larry’s remains were located more than three decades after he was lost to war. It was not just a journey for Tyra, but, for the men in his unit as well, many of whom Tyra later meets and hears, first hand, of how Larry died, when he is finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Their own sadness at not being able to return his body is expressed and Dr. Manning seems sensitive to in her writing.
For every adult who still carries his or her inner child who lost a parent at an early age, this is a book to read.
For every family member of military whose loved one never come back from war, this is a book to read.
For everyone with immobilizing fears, anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, this is a book to read.
For you, dear reader, this is a book to read.
Thank you, Dr. Manning. Your courage to seek help and your courage to tell your story is inspiring and, in spite of the sadness and pain, your story is a gift, especially for the millions of people who seek that spot where the water meets the sand.