We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot
It’s my third day at the beach and I rise early, eager to start my walk before anyone else in the house stirs. The best first step happens in moonlight, the sun awakening as slowly as my words. I walk to the water’s edge and wiggle my bare feet in the water.
Like most coastal areas, Holden Beach, North Carolina experiences two high tides every day. The moon causes the tides, since a lunar day runs 50 minutes longer than a solar day. The moon’s gravitational pull generates something called the tidal force, which causes Earth’s water to “bulge out” on the sides closest to and farthest away from the moon. These water bulges create high tides.
As I happen to be here during a full moon, the tides are even higher than normal. What this means for my daily walk is an ever-changing coastline, a trail that is soft with sand one day and hard-packed and shell-strewn the next, a short beach one day followed by an astonishingly distant water line the next.
It’s like hiking the same trail across the seasons; it’s both constantly shifting and seemingly eternal. It’s the exploration that Eliot spoke of in his poem “Four Quartets,” a meditation on man’s relationship to time and the merging of the past, present, and future with the eternal now. We walk the same coast because we are called to by the Keeper of the Stars.
Oceans are a human lifeline; water makes up over 70% of the earth’s surface and also over 70% of the human body. Our body is almost the same density as water, permitting us to float rather than drown. The seas and oceans produce over half of our usable oxygen and absorb 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. The more we learn about the deepest reaches of the dark waters, the more that information points back to who we are, living things built of ageless and comparable elements, ebbing and flowing with time. We call it Earth, but from space, you mostly see water.
Indeed, we were born in the smallest of oceans, an embryo of fins and gills. We then spend our lifetime being called back to the salty support of the amniotic brine, long to be baptized and reborn in those medicinal saline waters. Regardless of birthplace, the color blue is overwhelmingly the chosen favorite for the majority of humans; we associate the color blue with calm contentment and intuitively seek water when in existential crisis.
I walk, occasionally stopping to scrounge the shore for shark’s teeth. I wonder why we are pulled so strongly, am curious from where this feeling of connection rises. I suspect we are pulled toward the fundamental simplicity.
The visual horizon is streamlined, flat blue as far as the eye can see. The auditory perspective also strikes a chord of basic recognition in the human heart and mind; the sound plays on loop, the gentle cacophony of the water kissing the shore and being ever turned away like a spurned lover. Whooshing and lapping, a drumbeat that keeps time as each footprint is quickly erased. It’s a cognitive nap, a necessary break for minds increasingly onslaught with informational input.
And it’s this rest that primes our minds to feel awe and connection, switches us from a state of “me” to one of “we,” allows us to feel the enduring interconnectedness of all existence. The ocean reminds us that we are but a drop, both inconsequential and absolutely essential. It enhances and expands any state of awareness, sharpens our senses to the point we feel both the constant alteration and the ceaselessly immutable at once.
And all the while we know that calm is temporary, wisely carry a bone-deep respect for the wild roughness of the ocean, recognizing that distant scudding clouds could move quickly inland toward violence, leaving only wind and waves and turbulent water, unyielding and unforgiving. I’ve always preferred to keep my feet firmly on the sand, deferential to the insistent power.
Deferential but still reverential, an emotional response that occurs independently of cognitive thought. I’m always trying to understand, pick things apart to analyze and comprehend. Why must I always need to know?
Not this time. I’m content to accept that there are mysteries greater than my understanding, am willing to go with my gut and let my exhausted mind rest. I want, like Eliot, to arrive where I started. I’m willing to trust that Great Unknown.
I wade up to my waist and dive in.