(with thanks to Jesse Winchester for the inspiration)
This morning I had breakfast on the pier probing out over the Atlantic in Virginia Beach. Ocean Eddies had long been an evening haunt, and despite that they’re slated for destruction, they remain open and now offer breakfast. This morning I had an omelet stuffed with scallops, crabmeat, shrimp and cheese, with toast and home fries. The sun skipped off the silvery, glass waves and the breezes kept the humidity at bay.
I was alone. It is still too early in the season—especially on a Thursday—for crowds, and I sat under an awning watching dolphins and pelicans work their way down the coast. I knew they’d reach the jetty at first street and circle back. They always do.
The pier is probably twenty feet off the sand offering more of a crow’s nest view of the horizon than a body-surfer’s vantage. And as quiet as the water was, I drifted off into the distance, circumnavigating the globe in my mind as I have for decades. This morning though I really sat and stared not so much at the water as the distance. Portugal is out there, Spain beyond. I looked just below the sun toward what I knew was the northwest coast of Galacia and pictured the people there right then, right at that moment, staring west across the Atlantic from Fisterra, where Michael and I stood just a few years ago. It never ceases to freak me out that right over the curve of the earth, just time away, are villages still, with small cafes where pilgrims right now rest, as we did. If I had better eyesight and the ability to bend vision, I could be looking right at them. I was looking right at them except for the physics of it all.
And further south is West Africa, where I had ceeb—a rice dish—for the first time and talked to friends over Flagg Beer several decades ago. It is so easy to fall into the trap of remembering the “time” it was instead of the “place” it is. I’m sure some of my favorite spots have changed while others, like the tiny chicken villages of northern Spain, are the same as they always have been. But all of them are still right there nonetheless. It is profoundly easy to forget that when perception forces us into believing that things close by are larger and more significant than things far away. Often it is just that life blocks our view.
What a ride it has been on this spinning playground. I’ve been blessed to be able to see so much, and not by moving mountains or praying for miracles. I just decided to go. It is easy to forget that in the end the difference between when you dream about something and when you pursue that dream is a split second separated by the notion of simply deciding to do it.
These days the news has lost control and the information barrage is saturating existence; but on the pier this morning I remembered how fragile and fleeting our time is that we waste so much of it tangled up in the goings and comings of the small tentacles of anger and negativity. For example, while drinking orange juice I looked just to the north, across the other side of the bar about four thousand miles toward Norway, where early every morning our neighbor, the fisherman Magnus, came back with a cod, cut out the liver for himself, and gave us the rest. On the other side of the fjord outside the kitchen window of our cabin was nothing for thousands of miles to the north pole. I glanced that way this morning. The small town near is a fishing village, and the air is absolute. “Pure” doesn’t describe it.
I sat and looked toward the piers on Long Island, the docks on Martha’s Vineyard, the rivers and bays of New York. Sometimes I get tired and and give in to the shadows, but then I stumble upon a morning like this and I have no trouble buying into Emmanuel Kant’s insistence that “what’s next” is entirely up to us.
Have you ever sat quietly on a balcony and gazed out on the ocean? Two ideas emerge. First, it pushes part of us toward the possibilities which on a daily basis we are afraid to say out loud, and nearly simultaneously forces the lesser angels off of our shoulders, where we sweep them away with the ridiculous minutia we pretend we need on a daily basis.
Sometimes it seems as if society (allow me one paragraph of philosophical banter) is trying hard to crawl back into the cave. So many people in these days of political uncertainty and cultural dehydration seem to be staring at shadows again, looking away from the flames, obsessed with the flickering of residual data on the walls. The tragedy is the fire will burn out and the shadows are an illusion. The only course of action is to get out of the cave, see what’s out there, but too often we stand in the doorway, hesitant, terrified by terrorism and insecure about disconnection, scared we might miss something.
She refilled my coffee two times. The sun moved above a cloudbank and warmed the pier and the sand, and tourist kids from further north gathered along the waterline. I haven’t been that quiet in a long time. Sometimes at night, but never at that hour of the morning. I thought first about how at night my son and I love to get out the telescope and quietly gaze at the stars. (Warning: Trite writing ahead) The night sky stars make us feel small; they make the passing of time and the love of the people around us so much more important, and I wonder why, every single time we do this I wonder why everyone isn’t out looking at Cassiopeia or Orion’s belt. And then this morning I watched the silvery reflection on the waves and then glanced up at the sun, our very own star, no telescope necessary, and remembered all the times I watched the sunrise or set at various places fore and aft, from Arizona to the Sea of Japan.
It feels good to stop and remind myself sometimes that I couldn’t find my way back to the cave if I tried.