Standing on the Shore, Not Lost

I increasingly find myself remembering fragments of passages that entered the recesses of my mind years ago, only to discover that the bright fabric of their wisdom has begun to come unraveled at the seams. I just googled the poem “Lost”, which I have quoted several times in the past and am doing so again today, to discover that the lines I so confidently remember—while there in spirit—are scattered widely in the actual poem:

. . . The trees . . .are not lost . . .
Stand still.
The forest knows where you are.
You must let it find you.” Lost, by David Wagoner. See entire poem:

Is our notion of “reality” also just something we imperfectly remember? It seems to me that if a memory speaks from a place inside, and lends some coherence as we make our way through this lifetime, then it is not lost. Like the forest, we can let it find us.

My old friend, Bill, died last month, at the age of 74. Now I find myself remembering the period of my life when Bill and I did a lot together: walking to and from school, playing on our high school football team, and commuting by train to our first jobs in Montreal.

We both had a tendency to be late for everything (a tendency that my wife maintains is alive and well in me as I count down to my own 74th birthday). Among my images of Bill are: as teenagers, endlessly tossing a ball back and forth; and in our 20’s, running each weekday morning to catch hold of the last car of the commuter train as it accelerated down the track toward downtown Montreal. In our 30’s, we worked separately at mines in Western Canada, and Bill worked on an oil rig in the Arctic where the chill factor reached 90F degrees below zero—he had frostbite on his cheeks to prove it.

Occasionally the space around us opens up and we are able to see ourselves and our situation in a more global perspective. It’s as if our sense of separation from everything else dissolves, and we realize that space is inviting us to step inside and make ourselves at home. At such times, we no longer need to track the particulars, which a moment before had felt like obstacles standing between us and where we needed to be.

There is one memory Bill shared with me that still feels significant, and I hope it continued to resonate in him. From my perspective, it revealed a blueprint for how to pass into the unknown future. In any case–true to our shared past–Bill was once again running late.

One evening, Bill raced to catch the last ferry to the mainland, but he reached the dock just in time to see the boat pulling away. I no longer recall which of Canada’s several island ferries it was (possibly Prince Edward Island or one of the Gulf Stream islands scattered between the mainland and Vancouver Island), but as Bill stood there, helplessly watching the last boat of the day pull out into the channel, turn, and head toward the mainland, instead of feeling angry or despairing, he realized that he had nowhere else he needed to be and that right there was as good a place as any.

Yes, indeed. I hope that when it comes my time to move on, I will be able to draw upon that kind of realization: “Right here is a perfectly fine place to be”, whether I’m on board or not. And I hope Bill felt that kind of equanimity in his last moments—as he embarked on his journey into the unknown beyond.

5 comments to “Standing on the Shore, Not Lost”
  1. Dear Michael,

    I appreciate your stories about my brother Bill and how important you were to each other and the rest of the ‘kids’ in the area. The story that sticks in my mind was told to me by my parents, probably after you and he were scolded for throwing apples at cars that passed along the Lakeshore Road. You, Bill and D’Arcy hid behind a beautiful stone wall gleefully tossing apples at unsuspecting drivers. I remember my parents were mad! I now have stories to treasure as we the family mourn his passing. He was at peace in his final moments and although he would have preferred to be throwing a football around he lay there helplessly remembering the time the last boat of the day pulled out into the channel, turned, and headed toward the mainland, instead of feeling angry or despairing, he realized that he had nowhere else he needed to be and that right there was as good a place as any.

    Thank you Michael for being an important part of my brother’s life.

    Love Rosemary

  2. Rosemary, it’s wonderful to read some of your memories. Thank you for sharing them. I remember those “apples” as balls of mud and I can still remember running through the muddy field we called “Priest’s Farm” after a driver slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his car, and took off after three delinquent, frightened kids. I assure you I was not the ringleader. And I cannot tell a lie. It was D’Arcy. Yaaa, that’s right . . .

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