This morning a heavy mist settled on the ocean, turning the sky and horizon and breakers right up to the sand all one color, one dimension, like the façade on a movie set or some impressionistic painting. At the water’s edge, I could see maybe thirty or forty feet before the wall of blue blocked my view. A group of pelicans flew by, inches above the calm ocean, not far from where I stood, and about six or so dolphins moved past, their backs rising out; only one, just once, breached the water. Had she been another ten feet beyond I probably wouldn’t have been able to watch.
It is winter, but it is warm, and no one was around, not even the normal runners, not the scattered homeless. It was simply quiet, and I walked at the water’s edge a long time in the salty air enjoying the peace. There is such a difference between the solitude through the day when I go for a walk or sit on a porch, and the peace found in nature where certain sounds, like gentle waves lapping the shore or an occasional call of a gull, remind me of the silence, forces me to focus on what I’m not hearing. It reminds me of John Cage’s, “4’33” which is that length of time of complete silence—a cd with a more-than-four-minute track of absolute nothingness; he makes the listener completely aware of the absence of sound. Walking along an empty coast early before the sun comes up, or, like this morning, when there simply is no sun to speak of, reminds me first of the peace I find there that I can count on, and second of the noise I encounter when I leave the beach.
I am tired. I have been quite tired for a long time now, and some people I could count on to talk about it have disappeared; they formulate their own opinions and vanish, preferring the silence of distance to any peace of mind that comes from conversation. Isn’t there such a disturbing difference between quiet and peace? When I find myself like this, when I catch myself falling into some semblance of depression or confusion, I know I can clear my head. It is empowering to truly understand that when things are not going well I can walk to the water’s edge, to the one spot I have found which has never changed and has never abandoned me, and let the salty air and ocean breezes clear away the confusion.
The problem, of course, is the ocean is not a cure; it is a bandage. After a while, the only remedy would be to abandon society completely and camp out just this side of the high-water mark. No, one must address the cause of the need for escape. Ah, what an easy, Psych 101 response! Yes, the cause—it is an argument, a misunderstanding, a failure, a crossroads, a judgement, a realization, a loss too unbearable to contemplate. Yes, okay, it is one of those or maybe something else, it really doesn’t matter. Because what so many do not understand about “escape” is that the “cause,” no matter how solvable, no matter how seemingly simple, is often a permanent presence in one’s soul created by a sense of abandonment and indifference, and it seems like there is no remedy.
I have known people like this; I have been close to people who found no recourse, could not negotiate the shadows, the parts of life without a clear and obvious path. One friend from high school killed himself (and his dog) in his garage. A close colleague of mine hung herself in her kitchen. We all have a story; we all know some poor soul who never understood a way out.
We should have high school classes designed to help students find peace. We should give college credit for lessons in perspective and escape.
Some people seek therapy to talk it through, some medicate for balance, and some simply live in the middle, safe, where they never experience extremes, where highs and lows all wash out.
And some go for walks, discover the beauty inside which cannot be shrouded by others’ dismissal, by others’ judgments. They put on some John Cage and escape to the water’s edge where they can find themselves at peace somewhere out past the horizon.
“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace”