Spectacular Wave Crashingby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 3/2013

The water heals.

I’m a little kid, enjoying one of an uncountable number of childhood trips to Savin Hill Beach, experiencing the taste and smells of clean seawater and the joyous feeling of swimming and playing in the hot summer sun with all the laughing and crying children. I can feel the warm sun and taste the delicious boloney and cheese sandwiches Mom made, and the Kool-Aid and potato chips. The water is calling again, and I remember the frustration of having to wait 30 minutes after lunch before bursting back into the waves. An amalgam of memories of childhood, so many perfect days on the beach, all the childish cares and concerns washed away by diving under the seawater.

And the water heals.

I’m 11 years old, and nearly drowned a year previously in a local pool — my own fault, jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim. But even after my “rescue” I immediately jumped back in the shallow end, back into the water that is always my friend, my sanctuary. I wasn’t scared of it; I would simply need to learn to swim.

Because the water heals.

That same summer, my cousin Ray and his family have invited me to the family cottage in Marblehead. I spend lots of time on that dock, teaching myself to swim, help the launch crew offload passengers, and listen at night to the chime of the buoys in the distance, and think about how I love the beach. And later that summer, back at that same pool that nearly claimed me, I jump into the deep end and surface exuberantly — because I have become a pretty good swimmer.

And because the water heals.

Two kids in their 20s are walking a beach, talking about past relationships, talking about past hurts, talking about future dreams. The ocean has always been special to the young lady, and the guy, well, he likes swimming so much he would stay in the sea until his lips were blue. That night, almost into sunrise, the two kids walk the beach, unaware they are falling in love as the steady roar of the ocean surf comes gently in, lapping the shore.

And the water heals.

It’s New Year’s Day and two kids, now twenty years older and a little wiser, are walking by the ocean on that same beach, as they often do, to greet the New Year. Nantasket Beach is very cold and covered with snow — entire sections of the lower shore are frozen solid. In the distance, the snow and ice taper to a steel-gray ocean — seemingly still but on closer inspection, moving, always moving. Ice floes and chunks of snow will soon be washed away, but for now, the ocean is a frozen mosaic, the boat slips are empty, the dock is snow-covered and quiet. Everything is still, waiting for spring.

And the water heals.

A summer afternoon in Boston — it’s been two long weeks of busy on-call and the (seeming) weight of the world on my shoulders. A mere $16 buys me a one hour passage aboard a harbor cruise to Old Ironsides. The sky is an unbelievable blue; the Boston skyline pristine; the sun feels great on my face. I walk to the back of the boat and watch, fascinated by the churning foam and long white wake behind the boat. My problems and negative thoughts are replaced by a kind of childlike wonder at all the energy being generated to propel this little boat along Boston Harbor, and the beauty of the panoramic ocean all around me.

And the water heals.

It’s winter and Ogunquit Beach is nearly deserted; a long, long stretch of pristine sand and a steady hiss of relentless waves are moving in, crashing, moving in, and crashing. I feel my breathing slow, and for a fleeting moment feel very small in a vast universe — there’s a poetic thought crossing my mind; a recollection of the Book of Genesis and the “dome” of the sky. The sky above the beach forms that perfect dome — the vastness, the sheer scope that is awe-inspiring and can’t be captured or defined in a photograph — you can only know it, only experience it, and only feel it. It’s absolutely magnificent; that sky and the ocean below.

018 Bass Harbor - Crashing WavesAnd the water heals.

I’m on a whale watch and the Dramamine and the power of positive thinking are not helping at all. Along with about half of the passengers, we lie in the back of the boat, praying for quick death as the extreme nausea threatens yet again. Once again I gain a healthy respect for the fury and power of the ocean, as the boat bounces up and down and my overactive imagination enables me to see the situation as a group of helpless souls tossed around in stormy waves, at the whim of the angry sea gods, and on a more realistic note I am seriously regretting breakfast. I make my way occasionally on deck to witness the whales, but the battering rain, ferocious waves and roller-coaster passage make being vertical difficult. I return to the enclosed room, with my suffering crew. The tour mercifully ends, and we queasy survivors disembark on wobbly legs. But as I look around I am still amazed how beautiful the ocean looks, and its sheer ferocity reminds me to respect it. I’ll go back out for another whale watch, but on a much calmer day, to see everything I missed. I still love it; I want to be out there, experiencing it.

Because the water heals.

It’s late in the day in August; Jordan Pond in Acadia is quiet as always, save a few hikers walking by and the telltale clink-clink of silverware and china in the nearby restaurant. I sit by that pond, a few pebbles leaving ripples that I observe reaching outward. Time slows down; the universe is in perspective for just this moment.

And the water heals.

On uncountable occasions I’ve had it with the stress and a mind racing at light speed in thirty directions. I go to the gym, I hit the pool — I swim; and it’s so quiet — I hear nothing but the swish of the current. I open my eyes and see only blue; I can feel the water surrounding me, cradling me as I swim through it. My blood pressure lowers, my thoughts grow a little clearer, and then my mind calms, at least for a little while.

Because the water heals.

I’m standing at a place called Table Rock Observation Deck — some 150 feet tunneled down to a rocky “shelf” on the side of Niagara Falls. In a plastic yellow slicker I am soaked and standing closer — ever closer — feeling the sheer magnitude and might of this incredible force. I realize that I am as close to the Falls as I can get without being killed, and the feeling is exhilarating. It’s a heady feeling — this almighty cascade of watery fury — and I can’t help being stunned by the PRIMAL nature of what I am feeling. Despite being soaked I stay, transfixed by the elemental might I am witnessing. For an instant, I am one with this water, in sheer awe of something that can only be experienced. It’s absolutely joyful.

Because the water heals.

I walk the beach, alone or with that same young lady from twenty years earlier. I sit by the pond, and I enjoy an ice cream by the lake. I swim. I’m by the water, any water. A beach with crashing waves, a stream, a tranquil pond, a swimming pool, large bay, a glorious harbor, a jetty during a rainstorm. It doesn’t matter. The breathing slows. The mind calms; the circadian rhythm synchronizes with the element.

I remind myself that it’s always here; it’s always waiting for me; that I must respect its elemental might and temperamental fury, but like fire, as long as it is respected it will take care of you, nurture you, revitalize you, and renew you.

Because the water heals. It always heals.


Ogunquit - Cliff House Waves Crash

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