The Sea at Year’s End

Near Palermo, Sicily

At the end of this emotion-filled year, the images that keep returning to me are of the sea.

I’m not an ocean person; I’ve never lived near the shore. My home has been in the mountains and in pastoral, agricultural landscapes — and after that, in large cities. Yet I think I’ve spent more time this year on the edges of the sea than in any other year of my life. I love it, and always have, even though I don’t know it very well. And it seems an apt subject for how I feel on this last day of 2017.

During the dark and difficult times of my life, I try to return to my breath: its pattern, constancy and immediacy help to center me again. The ocean is like that, too, and because of the hours I’ve spent watching it in so many different temperaments and clothings — from the rocky Atlantic shores of Atlantic of New England, to the black volcanic sands of Iceland and the North Atlantic, the shell and sand beaches of Florida, and most recently the very different waters of the Mediterranean — I have new images of ebb and flow, of constancy and immediacy, that I find calming and helpful in the midst of so much that is not.

Cefalù, Sicily

Of course the sea also contains death: it bears on it the hopes and bodies of some of the most desperate people on our planet; it’s capable of massive destruction; and its very health is endangered just as its rising water threatens human settlement. But that’s not what I am thinking of here. It’s the hypnotic movement of the waves that has gone on forever and will go on for millennia after we are gone, a movement that has drawn human beings to stop and watch for as long as they have been on the earth: something wilder and vaster than us, full of terror but also full of beauty and mystery that transcend our fear and bid us to watch, to enter, to ride upon it and dive into it.

I need images like these in order to keep going, in order to keep creating, to keep living as a person of joy and optimism in the face of so much that is entirely opposite, to keep trying to bring light to the people and situations I encounter.

This has been a terribly difficult year for anyone who thinks and feels. I’ve made a conscious decision to limit my time on social media, and watching and reading the news, not only because I find much of the discourse toxic, but because it leads nowhere. We need to be informed and involved, but not to the point of losing ourselves. The bright lights in my life continue to be love, friendship and intelligent, searching conversation, the arts, and nature: I am so grateful for them, and look forward to continuing to find ways to communicate and connect as another year opens up to us.

Cefalù, Sicily
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