In the Waves

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward each disappearing into the next.

Focusing on my little boy, I am standing in the water, my back to the sea. He’s five now and there is an awareness that was completely lacking a couple years ago, but his faith is still that of an immortal.

I am standing in front of him looking back to the shore. The waves break past me, mostly. Some catch me unsuspecting. It’s remarkable how silent they are prior to crashing. Teddy is facing the waves, delighting in the excitement of the break and it’s power and the surging and retreating waters. The laughs are undeniable. They overwhelm him. Inside the chaos and devoid of fear all he feels is joy.

As I stand in the water looking back at him I marvel. I am blissful as I absorb the reflections of his giddy, playful happiness.

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward.

I’m riding the waves as they pass. If I see them I jump. If they reach me before I look I let them lift me. Either way is fine. I’m in control when I can be and pliable when caught off guard. If I tried to stand my ground the wave would bury me and remove me from this perfect moment so I surrender whenever prompted and float up.

I come to shore after a powerful surge knocked him down and a close wave followed and crashed down on top. Any fear he lacked before has caught up to him and he’s off, running out of the foamy water as it recedes, toward the crowded beach. I yell his name but its no use. It just disappears in the surf and wind. I start to run in and ride a passing wave for a few feet to hasten the journey. He’s never gone from my sight, but he made good progress. I catch up and kneel next to him.

‘Are you okay, buddy?’

‘I was laying down and a wave flew on me.’

‘I know. I saw that. Did you get water up your nose.’

‘No. It just fell down on top of me.’

‘I know. Was it scary.’

‘Yeah.’

We get his mother and older brother whose play has left them surprisingly far from where they’d entered the water. The little one was done for the day, at least with the water. His curiosity now turned to the fisherman on the rock outcropping that bordered the far end of this section of the beach. We all followed along enjoying the beautiful weather as he followed his curiosity, stopping throughout to inspect mollusks and dried seaweed.

He learned something today about the ocean that I didn’t learn until much later. I wasn’t born near an ocean and our family didn’t visit the seaside much until I was older, closer to a teen. But I learned the same lesson long ago.

Truth is I’m still learning the nature of the sea. Still trying to find out when to challenge and when to yield. It’s hard for me even now to know what fears need facing and which are best left in place.

I’m enjoying a moment of riding the waves as they catch me. The waves keep coming and any one of them could carry me to safety or drag me down. Best I can do for now is try to relax and let the ocean do her work.

All This

All this. The writing. The fighting. The bailing and sorting. All of it is to fend off, to hold at bay that which I can’t honestly accept. I know it. I can tell you roughly when it will happen, but I can’t honestly accept that I will die.

My unwillingness is part of my process. I acknowledge it, consider it as often as daily. But still, I can’t accept it.

Perhaps that’s okay. Maybe that’s my way of feeling it. Perhaps the coexisting knowledge and the unavailing, unable acceptance are set in contrast to highlight for me the value of this beautiful, maddening, moving and exhausting existence. It’s possible that these countervailing internal realities provide propulsion and chip away at resistance. 

I’m more tired than I used to be and strangely more motivated to leave some essential mark on the landscape of my life. It’s possible this is the result of a desire to stretch my finite to infinite. I could be trying to extend my influence beyond my horizon. Seeking such validation nakedly is often viewed as shallow but I’m okay with the idea.

Problem is I don’t know that life will allow me understanding. It seems it will find new ways to slip my grip if I’m ever able to grasp it and wrangle it for so much as a moment. The meaning I give to the experience may be all I’m afforded. Might be all any of us are. If so I’ll know this, though wishing and wanting it ever to have been more, I’ll die knowing I’d never want it any other. I’ll know mine was a fortunate life. Were I to die before typing this line I can assure you it would be the passing of a lucky man who was given his share and then some of love and experience and challenge and comfort. 

I don’t know what all this is for and I don’t know what it is that pushes me. I know however that life is short and it would be if lived in triplicate. I can’t stop thinking and won’t stop looking for meaning I know will elude me. 

Life Slips Past

How am I doing?

Oh, I guess I’m doing fine

It’s been so long now,

But it seems now, that it was only yesterday

Gee, ain’t it funny, how time slips away

~Willie Nelson


This morning I drove to work listening to NPR. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s kind of a big deal for me at this point in life. Most mornings I don’t have the chance to do this. It happened to be morning two of the pledge drive but even that didn’t bother me. 

Recently I’d taken to fine tuning the spring loaded knobs that normally lay flush to the dash so that only the speaker in front of the drivers seat worked. This way only I’d hear the news of the day and the most recent happenings from the campaigns or the long form stories on bureaucratic minutia of New York life. If I didn’t do this and it was at a volume loud enough to hear in the back seat I’d immediately be told what to do. 

‘Play the ‘Ghost Monster’ music.’ One of the boys would say. 

That was it. I’d be driving to work listening to the same ten Halloween songs we’ve heard a thousand times. I mean, it’s May. No bother, it’s a reasonably decent compilation and every tenth song I get to hear Screamin’ Jay Hawkins put a spell on you, so, you know, no biggie. 

But today, today I heard news and it was great. It was grown up and engaging and stories were interesting and they were told by curious, intelligent adults. It was delightful. 

You should know that I was once a bit of an NPR-head. I loved NPR way before it was cool. It started with my dad listening to bluegrass on Saturdays and A Prairie Home Companion on weekend drives in the station wagon. By the time I got out of college, in my very early twenties it was pretty much what I listened to all day. When I moved to the mountains with my college girlfriend in our ill fated attempts to avoid splitting up, it stayed on whenever we were home. That was VPR then, Vermont Public Radio. Later, when I’d live for years in the Catskills it was my constant companion as I worked in the Executive Director’s cabin in a makeshift office on weekdays organizing logistics and communications to families we’d serve on weekends through the winter all to the sounds of Dr. Allen Chartok (Sp?) and the entrepreneurial and enthusiastic crew of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. I had gear. People that knew me bought me t-shirts and mugs and knew I’d love them. Thanks, Christen! I still miss both the mug and the t-shirt. 

I felt so personally connected to the people. The wonderful, smart, cultured, grown up, funny and serious people that explored ideas and were curious about things I never knew could be anything but boring. People who were fascinated by history and it’s meaning. Art and it’s feelings. Science and it’s implications. It broadened my horizon’s and became a badge I wore on my psyche. I have a vague memory of once trying to mock a cheesy, vapid, Atlantic City cover band (think of Jack Black’s original band in School of Rock when they play at the battle of bands at the end of the movie. Just unbearable. At least that’s how I remember them, but I was pretty drunk. Like come down from the mountains and go straight to A.C. with a bunch of other like minded weirdo’s for a ‘work’ conference drunk.) by standing silently in protest to their cover of ‘Living on a Prayer’ by shaming them and pointing endlessly at my cool, smart NPR t-shirt. I think I made my point.

Then a thousand other epochs of life happened and somewhere along the way I’d lost that time. Those experiences that seemed like a permanent part of life passed to the past. It was still a part of my life, but I no longer looked forward to Tuesday nights at 9:00 for the Selected Shorts rebroadcast. Long Saturday drives to the country while listening to Garrison Keillor and the Guys AllStar Shoe Band were replaced with bottles and feedings and naps and confusion. The life I had that was so much who I was was gone and in it’s place was something new to get lost in. My wife. My kids. Family. 

So today, driving in to trainings at an off site locale for a new job and a new adventure, it was delightful to have some time listening to an echo of a life that had been relegated to the dustbin of my personal history when I wasn’t looking. That I left behind happily to start a new adventure. That recycled itself into the air to be caught by another at a different stage.