Last week I met with some fellow writers, as I do twice a month. Looking back, I find myself wondering why it felt especially satisfying that afternoon. Did the themes on which we wrote—“What would Dad do?” and “My favorite way to die.”—tap into something especially meaningful for the seven of us? Was it that two new members infused fresh energy, as if a harp and a flute joined a string quintet and widened the range of tonal diversity being integrated?
Whatever the explanation, I had a sense of being on a parallel journey with other like-minded but unique individuals.
“A rising tide lifts all boats”—a phrase usually used to suggest that prosperity for society as a whole benefits each individual—captures something beyond economic theory.
Pondering memories of childhood—as my pen raced across the paper–I perceived myself heading toward a time when my hands will no longer move. The child of my own parents is now the father of two sons. But while my parents can no longer reflect on the future, I am still at sea, propelled along by tidal currents.
After we had each read what we had written, I saw my life as a tacking back and forth, trying to catch the best breeze blowing across the sea. It’s all a movement across the face of stillness, and hearing how others described their journeys from birth onwards unto death helped me appreciate my own cycles of breath and intention, regrets and aspirations, disappointments and celebrations.
We are each adrift on the same tide as those around us, and seeing that truth with fresh understanding is itself a rising tide, lifting us along with a wider community.
This “universal unique” called life provides an intersection in which our home port is a vessel out at sea. Floating on ocean tides–along with every other boat that raises its flag into the wind—we are riding on a stillness that buoys us and leaves us free to chart our own way. And these currents that locate us also animate our individual being.
As we chart our individual journeys on ocean tides, prevailing winds, and a grip on the tiller, we often don’t give much thought to the intersection of worlds that is also happening.
Just south of Pacifica, California there is a wide sweep of sand. It was a cold, raw, windy day, and the beach was unpopulated except for three figures bundled against the weather: me. my wife (Roxanne), and our good friend Don.
The air was wet with a cold spray blown off the tops of the waves. We walked rigorously. Our eyes were squinting from the driving mist, so we didn’t see it at first. Then, wordlessly, we all three stopped at once. Less than 100 feet offshore was a huge whale. It was still. And it was looking at us.
Time stopped. Our awareness of the landscape, the weather, the clouds — all gone. There was only us… and the whale. The huge creature was turned somewhat sideways so that it could see us with one eye.
No one spoke. It was an event before language, before sound. There was acknowledgement. There was shared respect. And there was ineffable mystery as two species wordlessly exchanged….what? Breath? Thought? Reverence?
We stood still for what was at least a half and hour. Then somehow he was gone. No splash. No noise.
The memory of that extraordinary exchange stays with me, often rising from the ocean of images to look my soul eye-to-eye and speak silently of wonder.