I took a long trip for a summer’s vacation– a relief from the city and quite a way from home. Truth be told, I needed a break before I’d be broken. That’s not exactly the truth though. I think the broken had already occurred, judging by how I’d been judging. Anyhow, the loose parts that were me booked a thousand-mile trip to the sub-tropics.
In short: Okay brother, get yourself together.
First day, on the beach, at the water’s edge, I saw something under the sand. Oval, a peek of a shiny shell? Maybe a foot long. Gosh, I almost crushed it. That would have hurt. I looked closely and realized it was a living thing. Then, miraculously, a communication channel opened between us. I don’t explain it; I only state a fact.
The partially-buried sea creature said to me, “Dear beach visitor, I’m a being in need. One of many, at your mercy. We count on you to be strong. And I think, you count on us when you’re weak.”
I backed up a step and shook my head. “Hey chum, I don’t need solicitation, or salvation. Yes I can hear your thoughts. Big deal. Don’t jump on the first out-of-town sucker to hear your pitch this morning.”
The creature said, “Look away, if you want me to die. Look to me, if you want me to live.”
I didn’t need a conversation with someone, with something, who didn’t want to talk. As strange as it sounds, and I’ll tell you right now, it sounded damn strange to me, I didn’t walk off. Not yet. Because if you remove the double negatives from the sentence I just said, I give the whole game away. And that’s how we happened to get started.
“Partially-buried English-thinking sea creature,” I said. “Why on Earth would you count on me to be strong? When you don’t know me?”
“I’m not ‘on Earth’. I’m under it.”
I waved my hand–it didn’t matter. “Right. Well I’m on Earth. And yeah, I’m here–” I looked up the empty shoreline and to sound redundant, saw nothing. Nothing worth fleeing to, at any rate. “I’m renting for ten days to get it together. I’ve backed out of municipal filings and public policy end-arounds. Decisions are being made right now that I need to be part of and I suspect are being done wrong, and only because I am burnt. Burned out.”
“That’s your job?”
“Yeah, back home, where everyone who’s screaming gets just enough of me to get them out of my office for that moment, off my phone or logged out of those damn forums. Where everything’s transcribed, for the public record you see. A record I’ll be accountable to, outside of my control, with twenty-twenty hindsight of everybody, including the mayor’s dog. Work’s been tough. I don’t see an end to it. I’m picturing that life, my life, and I don’t foresee a good resolution for me.”
“Sir,” the creature said, “Don’t look back unless it’s great there. Skip the present, that’s passing. Force your future exactly as you want it to be.”
It occurred to me this being’s uncomplicated life was doing him some good. On a base level, that is. Buried under sand. Waiting to be stepped on. Waiting for someone to safely walk by.
I leaned over instead.
“Hello creature: I came very far and very fast, to slow it all down. It seems to me, you are in complete living peace. I am locked-in on that.”
“You are focused on relaxing?” he said.
“I would skip the focusing.”
“Ouch,” I replied.
The creature said, “I can’t take a step, and I’ve traveled no place; only you have come to me. You’ve done me a great service. With your greeting.”
A wave of pity rushed through me. I had given him no greeting at all, really. It was worse than that. Let me put it to you this way. When a being talks to you, or whatever this was, when that happens, it doesn’t matter his size; when he says that he can’t take a step and he’s traveled no place, well that hits you. If you have any kind of heart. Well, it hit me.
To think, I’d started out with the fear that by crushing him, I’d have hurt me.
I said, “Sea creature, you have given me your time. And I don’t know, that’s looking pretty good right now, seeing that I don’t know anyone on this island or even in this state for that matter. Heck, last night I couldn’t get a grocery store cashier to tell me what the bill totaled to. And so, I do appreciate your words. Tell me. I have a question for you. I am counting on you to dig deep for your answer. What is here that is not here?” I squinted in the terribly-bright sun and awaited his answer.
“Dear visitor, if the sun burns, then what sears you in the dungeon? If the wind stings, would you prefer unfeeling skin?”
He was right. The beach’s glare was a slam-dunk tradeoff for the workday grind. And the sensations here, the warmth of the breeze, the slow ease in my muscles, this was new to me. Seemed brand-new, in fact. Say, what’s ever really new to a sixty-year old? And isn’t that worth hanging on to?
I asked, “Why is life not this right, all the time? What place can I carry, if I have to set you down? I must be so out of balance, to have this need! To compensate for the extreme that’s called normal. My normal work life.”
The creature responded: “Why is this not the right time? For anything you wish to do?”
“Sea creature, let me put it this way: Do the waves dream of the city?”
The creature said, “How can something so free and so fluid, be held to one place?”
“You mean, the ocean.”
“No, I’m speaking of you, not the sea. Someone who thinks they’re worth nothing, will spend all their wealth to prove it. Don’t be that man.”
Oh, how I got that. I mean, I really, really got it!
“You can only divide your time,” the creature said. “Everything else that you split, will either rejoin or disintegrate while your attention is turned away. This is why you are searching.
“I have an answer for both of us,” he continued. “I’ll make a particular kind of noise, for your particular kind of ear. Ready for it?”
I nodded. “Please, yes.”
“If it is given to you, you will give it away. The more you share, the less apart we’ll be.”
And then I took a few steps, and found my way home.