“Why do people all over the world flock to the sandy shore? I think it is because the instant they touch the sand, the moment they hear the surf, the evil spirits flee and they feel at home in the world.” (Richard Bode, Beachcombing at Miramar)
The beach calls to the edges of our temporality. It makes blurry those events we call our birth and death. The beach confuses us, and pleasantly so, about what we believe, how we came to believe it, and how those beliefs are determining the ways we live.
This morning’s kelp, after all, has been rolling onto this shore for millennia before there was any human here to perceive it. The gulls have been busy at their finding and eating of sand fleas long, long before there were names for either of them. And the very ground, now between our toes, is a billion year old artifact of volcanic eruptions and the always-rewritten record of teeming shell life beyond our sight.
“Who am I?” becomes one of the questions drawn from us by the beach’s eternal dialogue.
“Who cares?” is one of the liberating answers, if we are listening.
And that answer is not to negate any of us who are clinging to our individualities for definition and meaning. It is, rather, an answer that allows us to begin to transcend ourselves- to see and start to understand our lives in the context of eternity, rather than the prison of time. All that we are seeing at the beach is part of something that came before. It is all still there. The ocean waves of a thousand years ago are no longer seen, but their substance laps at our feet. The shells of 200 million year old ammonites and other crustaceans have been ground into a luxurious, hundred foot pile carpet for us to walk upon, and for the sand fleas to hide within. The wind, born of the ocean and the moon, again and again and again, is the same wind which lifted pterodactyls yesterday, and gulls and pelicans and terns this day.
Watch the piles of kelp over several days, and you’ll see the thin black history of the Earth’s Carboniferous Period leaking into the sand strata beneath them.
It is possible, sitting here at the edge of Life’s beginnings, to- for moments- forget even our names. It is possible, breathing here the salt air of Creation, to feel absolute freedom from our selves.