It's now going on two years since I visited the Atlantic Ocean. It was time spent, for the most part, on a quiet beach in the off-season, which was, for me, the perfect time to be there. There were early morning walkers, some with dogs, some in pairs, some alone and deep in thought. Many were visitors from someplace else who had their own purpose for being there. Almost always these fellow travelers offered a hello, or a nod in greeting and, occasionally, would stop and visit with me about the ocean, the day, the weather, some observation they had made. And some would sit quietly on the benches, set near the sand dunes, just looking out to sea.
My time included some deep thought, but mostly it was about opening my arms wider to life and taking in all that the ocean had to offer by way of understanding myself a bit more. Some lessons were hard-won, and some were dropped at my feet unbidden, as wholly unexpected gifts. I have only recently come to understand more fully just what the ocean and the days spent there really brought me, and eventually taught me. The ocean is a wonderful thing, full of deep mystery, and so inviting. It offers us an opportunity to write our names in its "book of waves," to feel a part of that never-ending night sky; it teaches us to become our own lighthouse.
This morning, with several inches of fresh snow outside the door, a morning poem arrived in an email that left me smiling with its beautiful timing, its ability to so poetically distill these lessons from the sea, what it has taught me: it drew me to its shores so that I might become better able to See.
"I Was Never Able to Pray"
Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.
Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.
I was never able to pray
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves
and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.
~ Edward Hirsch
Edward Hirsch lives in New York and is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Painting by Winslow Homer. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he once lived and painted in a studio at Prouts Neck, just down the beach and around the corner from where I stayed. Perhaps one day I'll return and pay my respect for all the hours of pleasure his paintings have brought me.