Monday, October 27, 2008

A Moment at the Edge of Eternity

[The following was written shortly after the death of my father in August, 1999, and probably represents the beginning of my writing endeavors. Writing this was perhaps a little cathartic and helped me get through the grieving process. Of course, it also may serve as the start of yet another book project...but I suppose I'd better finish the first one, eh?]

She stood on the beach, watching the two men walk on towards the surf. Her mind was reeling with the events of the past several days and perhaps relished the soft embrace of the summer fog. Had this time finally come, she thought? No matter how much one prepares for the inevitable, one is never truly ready. No longer fighting the tears, but allowing them to flow freely down her cheeks, she continued to watch her two sons carry their package into the water. Their sandals were left nearby. She watched over them, but her thoughts were elsewhere.

Fifty years, she thought to herself. It would have been fifty years if he had lived another year or so. They were good years. Not always easy, nor necessarily remarkable, but good. Their sons turned out well, and she was proud of them both. Her mind was filled with images of the past, of when they met, the many places traveled, friends. Images of the future also played through her conscious. She was alone now. A widow. What will it be like without him? So many images, as she watched through tear-filled eyes the two figures now wading into the surf. All seemed to culminate into this moment suspended in eternity. This is goodbye, she thought. It was fitting to stand at the juncture of the land and the sea, with its endless vista. She bid her husband farewell, staying behind on the shore of the temporal as he begins his journey into eternity.

The waters of the Pacific Ocean swirled around our feet as we slowly made our way through the surf. It was a typical August day on the Oregon Coast. The sun was trying to burn away the morning mist, and the chill had not yet yielded to the sun’s warming rays. The mist and the light mingled to give the beach an ethereal feel, as though one is on the edge of space and time, and about to dissolve into another dimension. We felt we were touching on the edge of eternity, the spiritual came to meet us and blend into the realm of the physical.

The water was cold. It always is in the Northwest. I remember trying to swim in these waters as a child, but could never last very long before I yielded to the ache of the cold water chilling through to my bones. Yet the chill of the water did not concern us this morning, as my brother Mike and I carried our father’s ashes into the surf. We were fully absorbed in the purpose of this trip. There would be no waiting to acclimate, to get used to the water. No, we needed to do this and nothing would deter either of us. There was no hurry, though. It seemed that this moment needed a sense of purpose, yet there was also a solemnity that required a certain reverence. Dad would have appreciated that, I thought to myself. He loved ceremony.

We were fortunate that we had this stretch of beach to ourselves. Seaside is a popular resort, and the late morning hour would typically have brought out the morning stroller or beachcomber. It would have seemed a little strange to walk out and deposit Dad’s ashes if the beach was crowded with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers, not to mention the awkwardness they would have felt if they knew what we were doing. Truth be told, if it were crowded, we would have looked elsewhere.

But for us it was quiet. There were others several hundred yards away, but for this stretch we were alone. We waded out until the water came over our knees. The surf was not heavy, but waves would roll by, sometimes wetting the legs of our shorts. It didn’t matter. This was a sacred time, perhaps more meaningful and emotional than any other moment in my 47 years. I was strangely numb, though not from the cold water but the swirl of emotions of the past week. Had it only been a week, I thought? It seemed like an eternity had passed, and we were entering another phase in our lives.

Though no word was spoken, we both stopped and looked back at our mother. She was standing there, watching us. She stood still. Though my eyes could not focus that far, I knew she was weeping softly. In the moment I looked at her, I felt her sorrow. She looked so small there in the distance, standing alone on the sand. She was a strong woman, yet I could feel her emotion. I suppose this was something I inherited from her.

Our thoughts turned to the matter at hand. How would we do this, I thought? We had no script, no prior experience to guide us. Only the words of the mortician went through my mind, when I had picked up the ashes earlier in the week. When we told of our decision to scatter the remains in the ocean, he cautioned me about the wind. He said too many people had tried to do the same thing as us, only to have the ashes scattered back over them by the wind. Silently I opened the plastic bag that contained my father’s ashes and gently allowed the contents to roll out into the water. It was heavier and the pieces were larger than I expected. Some of the remains mingled with the water, seeming to dissolve. The lighter, dusty portion floated on the surface. I kept the bag close to the water, mindful of the mortician’s warning. After about half had poured out, I gave the remainder to my brother and he repeated the action until all of Dad’s remains were out. We watched for a moment as the surf dissipated the ashes. The heavier pieces settled to the bottom, blended with the mottled sand and became a part of the ocean floor. Then Mike rinsed out the plastic bag.

I was silent through all of this, fighting the emotion that tried to roll up and grip my throat. There seemed a sense of “rightness” to what we were doing. Dad loved the sea. He and Mom had walked this same stretch countless times over the years, sometimes by themselves and often with friends. There was no question this is what he would have wanted. So it seemed fitting to us. Then Mike surprised me, by speaking into the air to Dad . He thanked him for everything, for being a good father. Though I tried to choke back the tears, I could no longer. We embraced, then slowly turned and waded back to our mother.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Paul that was really beautiful, I learnt things that I didn't know before. God has given us all a gift, many of us are still searching for what that may be, but I can see that yours is the gift of writing and photography, or in one word 'expression', I look forward to reading your first book, and second, and third, and......