I’ve Been This Way Before

It’s late. On my way home I stopped and stared across the water to a massive moon just hanging there. The other night we used deep-space binoculars to gaze up-close at its craters, the shadows and mountain ranges. But tonight my eyes adjusted to the breeze, the well-above-flood-stage tide moving across the road at the river, and out there in all her glory tonight’s moon, like it has been for everyone who has ever been on this planet, all of humanity has seen this moon, hanging there, pushing the water just slightly higher.

Life is quiet tonight. It’s when it is late like this that I feel all of life is a murmur, a whisper of sorts. Emotions flow and ebb, successes and failures too, love, misery, those brief lightning-strike moments of euphoria and the near-suicidal feelings of claustrophobia, when it seems there is simply no escape and no more help to be found, also, flows and ebbs.

In fact, time may be the only consistent aspect of life.

Time runs away from us, out there past the horizon where that eternal moon waits just above the bay. There is absolutely something comforting in water. Have you ever waded for a while beneath the surface? If not, I am not certain I can describe it. There is a suspension, where with the wave of your arms ever so gently, perhaps the kick of a foot every so often, you just float there, water all around, and the impressing power of ocean on your skin and in every pore, ever orifice, weightless, and you become the water, as if the body—which is, of course, about seventy percent water itself—remembers, and returns to its natural state, you just float in this amniotic ocean, and when you surface, the water pulls at your skin, the intense tug of the water trembles for you to return, but the air reminds you of gravity and linear time, and you move onto the sand knowing you barely escaped this time, just one more day perhaps.

And the highs return, the absolute conviction you have control over your decisions, and mental health has no say, and past mistakes have been forgiven, and you know everything you hoped would go right goes right. But if you’re around long enough—six decades perhaps—you know it’s all going to fade again. And again.

Anyway, the moon is pretty tonight, and the water high from some storm passing Bermuda and pushing the water this way.

Before I left the college earlier, I asked my students—all brand new freshman in a class designed to help them with all aspects of adjusting to college life— what they do when they feel trapped and scared, just can’t find their way, when they just want to quit one way or another. They shrugged, mostly. One mentioned music, another calling home or friends. But one young man kept looking away, and when I walked on that side of the room I could see he had been crying. I moved back toward the middle and said, “When I was a freshman at college in western New York, I didn’t fit in at all. I really didn’t. I got involved but I always felt like I was so much more immature than the others, and I was from a place no one else was from—before cell phones or computers, when calling anyone meant slamming quarters into a payphone with shaving cream all over the receiver. So I found a place, a small grotto in the woods on a hillside across from campus. Mind you, it wasn’t about the beautiful statues at all, it was simply about the peace there, the absolute quiet there that somehow flooded my body, every pore, every orifice and brought me such peace and reminded me I am no one but who I am and I will always be this way and I have nothing to apologize for. I’d sit in the grotto for hours, sometimes falling asleep, and head back to the dorm well after midnight only to find everyone still partying. But somehow it no longer bothered me, like I knew something they didn’t; as if I had discovered a part of myself they’d never be able to touch, and it got me through four years. It got me through four more decades.

Find a place, I said to the class but really to this one young man, and don’t bring your phone, don’t bring your laptop. Don’t bring your anxieties and insecurities and hesitations.

On the way home something else was truly on my mind, an anxiety that filled my every space and set my heart racing, so I pulled over at the bay and watched the moon—this beautiful, imposing, eternal moon, surface and rise from the bay, and I sat a long time until I found that peace I needed that holds me up through the ebbs of life, reminds me that no matter how easy it would be to let the water have its way, that the tide is turning.

For those who wait long enough, the tide always turns.

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