Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 144: August 2011)
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Techniques for balance
I’m watching the waves inexorably grind against the beach here in Cape May, New Jersey. A sinuous line of humans clings to the high tide mark, baking under a bright sun ameliorated only by a sea breeze redolent of shells, seaweed, and sand.
I’ve come to the Jersey beaches since I was about 4, probably the third generation to make the Hadj, my granddaughters being the sixth. I came infrequently at first, money being in rare supply in my youth, even with gas at 36 cents per gallon. But when my parents could afford the trip and a couple of nights’ stay, we would embark in our ancient DeSoto, despite overheating cars, bumper-to-bumper traffic, no air conditioning, and pinball machines constituting the most complex form of entertainment.
Over the decades, however, the regimen is as unchanged as the liturgy of the church: some chairs, towels, and an umbrella; something to read and/or listen to; and some food and drink. The changes from transistors to digital and from packed sandwiches to food service on the beach are but miniscule evolutions, not even blips on the radar of time. Except for the cars, we could be in a time warp from a century ago, especially with a backdrop of Victorian-style houses and hotels here in southernmost Jersey.
As the years went on our visits became frequent and deliberate, an ancestral return to birth and mating grounds, as if we are pterodactyls assembling each year on sacred soil. We have come every July, unceasingly, for 17 years now (as we will also return yet again to Nantucket in August).
Intellectually, it is a curious phenomenon to sit on sand, occasionally immerse oneself in salt water, and remain fairly stationary for the greater part of a day over the course of a week or more. But viscerally, there is a great psychotropic joy in it, a oneness with the gulls and the fish, a calmness not always available under other conditions.
The ocean’s unique gravitas has a wonderfully calming effect, a combination of humility and awe. I’m told many people have never seen the ocean. I suppose it’s relaxing to camp in the wild, or to climb a mountain, or fish in a lake. But those, to me, are lesser orders of magnitude, a dwarf star to a supernova, a finger painting to a Titian.
Floating over waves while looking at the ramrod-straight horizon, I often wonder what will become of me. I’ve never found the answer, but I enjoy asking the question.
The human condition: IKMTYD
There’s an ancient story of a salesman who told a thrilling story of his escape from the Jamestown Flood. He actually gave up sales and made his living simply telling this story. After a long life of recounting this to tens of thousands of people, he passed on and found himself at the Pearly Gates.
St. Peter welcomed him and asked if he had any requests. “May I tell my Jamestown Flood story to the assembled multitudes?” he promptly asked. “I guess so,” replied St. Peter. “Tell me,” asked the salesman, “do you think it will be a tough audience?”
“Well,” replied St. Peter, “Noah will be there….”
Too many people seem to believe that “I Know More Than You Do.” They’ll advise you on a movie, car, restaurant, or beach without bothering to inquire if you’ve been there or, perhaps, someplace even better. I don’t believe in one-ups-man-ship—if someone has loved the Cyclone roller coaster you don’t have to brag that you were on the Death Star coaster. Let them have their moment.
But there’s a certain obliviousness that pervades people’s psyches when they simply assume you couldn’t possibly have tasted the wine, eaten the food, or visited the landmark that they have. Maybe you do know more than I, it’s a fair bet, but why assume it without the slightest inquiry such as, “Have you seen….” or “Have you been….?”
It’s great to want to be helpful and share a fine experience or important lesson. Just keep you audience in mind.
Noah just might be there.
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