It’s just after three in the morning and from outside this bedroom window I can hear the waves of the Gulf of Mexico methodically pounding the sand just fifty feet away. The weather must be changing for me to hear such waves. But it is March, and the “waters of March” are known for their changes; the very physical embodiment of “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” Still, such sounds seem more lioness than sheepish at this hour.
I suppose everything does.
The things that need to be done, projects to finish—or at least get beyond the just getting started state, practical matters to figure out and promptly address, the very foundations of life to re-solidify, ghosts to talk to and attempt to quiet down for now—you know the ones; they show up at three am, sometimes in the dreams that wake us, sometimes in a powerful memory played out in some cosmic Déjà vu, and sometimes in the mist that rises from pounding waves, waking you up and reminding you of everything that didn’t go well, everyone who lost faith in you, everything that normally settles to the back of your memory, stirred by the pounding, brought to the front by that rhythmic pounding.
The other morning I was in a different part of Florida getting ready for some work I had to do, and I turned on the television. One of those dreaded televangelists was wandering about the stage in front of thousands of people, and the tinge of his voice, the tight suit, the open collar, the plastered smile, the false tan, the nodding of the audience to his every, well-timed shift of tone, sent me looking for the remote to switch to something else, anything else, but before I found it he said something to the effect of, “Don’t carry the weight of what happened before! Let it go! Let go of how the last place you worked treated you that sent you running! Let go of the mistakes you made—stop deciding they were mistakes simply because things didn’t go the way you had hoped! Let go of your guilt for becoming dependent on others when you had no desire or intention to do so but found yourself there nonetheless! Let it go! For whatever reason, this is where you find yourself! For whatever others may think of how you got here, here is where you are! It is time to turn toward what’s next!”
Then I accidently kicked the remote which had dropped on the floor. Only then. I sat on the edge of the bed, turned off the television, and thought of Richard Simmons. Thirty-seven years ago that was essentially what he told all of us who were tasked with the job of motivating others to turn their lives around, and it worked, and I believed it, and it always worked for me, always.
Well, almost always. It doesn’t work well at three am when the ghosts rise from the pounding waves and settle on everything, and you wake up moist and lay staring at the ceiling, each wave a situation not handled well, each wave a wrong turn, some seemingly self-inflicted failure. William Styron called it the “Darkness Visible,” that depression that can’t be defined, but is ever present, like something you keep meaning to do but can’t remember what it was, just sitting there at the front of your mind, and only you know what’s bothering you, but even you can’t define it.
But if you spend enough time listening to those waves they can become deafening, overwhelmingly deafening. But eventually they can sound exactly—I mean exactly—like the waves that crash on the same sand at six am when the sun is slipping up over the trees behind you, and everything seems right with the world. And you’re able to put to bed those old thoughts and remember what it is you were trying to do anyway. But one should not have to wait until dawn to see some hint of light through the darkness.
Here’s the thing: There is the big picture; that is, where do I fit in in this massive world where eventually all things pass, and there is the detail in the small box in the corner, which is clear and points us toward something specific to focus on. And some people only see the big picture as the reason to find so much of life pointless to begin with, or they only see the small detail as that proverbial drop of water in a Gulf of pounding waves—what possible difference can one small contribution ever, I mean ever, make?
No middle ground for those people. As fellow Islander Billy Joel once pointed out: It’s either sadness or euphoria.
There are questions, though, right? Did events in the past cause this wake-up call, not the waves? Or did some state of mind which often remains undefinable and undiagnosed cause the events of the past to replay with every damned crash of a wave? (Simmons-training translation: Do you eat the junk food because you are depressed or are you depressed because you keep eating junk food?” Well, both perhaps)
So, one might simply go back to bed knowing that the truth is in the morning the sun will glint off the mist from the pounding waves and everything that symbolizes darkness in the soul suddenly symbolizes hope, or one might decide to redefine that metaphoric wave-pounding by walking out the back door, wandering down the grass to the sand, and stand at the water’s edge, stare up at a carpet of stars spreading all the way to the Mexican coast across the Gulf, and listen intently to the waves, each time noting what went well, each time feeling the brilliant slamming of a wave and thinking of a new idea to see through, an old accomplishment that brought good things, each wave in the imposing darkness becomes the putting away of those who don’t understand but never bothered to ask, of those who pushed back without cause, of those who doubt, knowing for certain that there is no bigger doubter than you. Until eventually each wave that wakes you up at three am reminds you of what’s possible. That’s how to chase away the ghosts.
So that’s what that tv guy said. Or at least that’s what I heard, something about making the choices to let go of what is unhealthy, including people, and hold tight to what is empowering, especially people, especially yourself.
Sometimes you only need your eyes to adjust a bit in order to see the darkness in a whole new light.