Sunday, August 02, 2009

Wind and Sand and Sky

Late afternoon. Sun low in the sky, kissing the tops of buildings in the distance. Tide going out in choppy waves.

Daphne and I are sitting on the beach, arms and shoulders and legs exposed to the still-warm air, eyes shielded by dark glasses. We have been inside all day listening to serious and dedicated people talk about the hard things our job forces us to see and hear and try to understand. We have been inundated with images of pain and evil. We have been reminded of the existence of worlds we will never know.

But now, outside, absorbing the sunlight, we are simply admiring each other’s swimsuits, making plans for dinner and talking about life. Talking about it as though we can actually make sense of it, as though we can actually anticipate the future with enough accuracy to be prepared for it, as though we can actually shield ourselves from the possibilities of pain and evil.

To one side of us is a young couple taking down a beach tent, obviously well-practiced as they position themselves at opposite corners and release the latches in unison. On the hard-packed sand near the edge of the water are a handful of young boys, long-legged and skinny, trying to tame the wind and fly kites. Behind us is an elaborate sand castle molded, not from small hands, but turret-shaped plastic buckets.

I absorb it all without being distracted from the conversation, keep my attention on the story Daphne is telling me, offer sensitive and cogent interjections at just the right moments. And, then, I realize that I have turned my head toward the water, that I am watching something other than my friend’s expressive face.

Just off the beach is a windsurfer struggling with his sail. A little farther downwind is another having no better luck. Neither one is particularly skilled. Both are managing to remain upright, but there is no fluidity in their movements, no grace in their maneuvers. They are so close to the shore than I cannot imagine that they are experiencing much in the way of transcendence. I feel sorry for them.

I don’t windsurf. But I have spent hours watching it. I can recognize the pure pleasure that comes from skimming the waves, leaning into the wind and letting it carry board and body and sail through air that smells of sun and salt. These two, the strugglers, are not experiencing that pleasure.

The next night I am talking to my friend the windsurfer, the one from whom I learned what I know, and I tell him about it. "Why," I ask him, "would they be staying so close to shore? That can’t be much fun."

"What was the direction of the wind?" he asks.

I try to remember, tell him where I’d been sitting, figure out that the wind was blowing in.

"That’s it," he says. "To get farther out they would have had to fight the wind. Not everyone wants to work that hard."

Instant gratification. Quick fix. It is what, unfortunately, most of us prefer.

"You put in the effort first," he goes on. "Tack, then sail."

Of course. That is the secret. Put all your energy – ALL your energy – into the climb, then trust gravity to bring you safely down. Put all your effort into the living, then trust life to bring you what you want. Tack, then sail.

The late summer light fades while we talk and I sit in near-darkness. I can close my eyes and I still see the two figures, tense and stiff, knees and elbows locked. I can almost hear the release of tightly-held breaths as their boards strike sand.

And I think about sitting on the beach with Daphne, working on our tans and our lives. I know what I will tell her when I see her again, the next time we find ourselves asking questions and wondering what is ahead.

"It’s all pretty simple," I will say. "Tack, then sail."

Copyright 2009

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