What I pondered last Thursday morning:
I suspect the ocean is one of those precious things in life that one never tires of seeing; every time is as the first. Always the same sense of awed silence, always the deep exhalation of weights left behind to be picked once more later, once the ocean is still there but you are not. If the evolutionists are right, we all come from the sea. My yearly first glance at the ocean always makes me wonder they may be correct—I feel as though I’m home.
There’s little doubt the sea is in my blood, tucked somewhere in the folds of my DNA alongside a craving for sweet iced tea and an affinity for all things old. My parents have a copy of the Coffey family crest prominently displayed on their living room wall. Among all the colors and adornments are three dolphins in the center. Family lore states that the Coffeys of old were fishermen and sailors who left the Irish shores for the adventure of lands unknown. That would explain a lot in my case, though for me those faraway and mysterious places I long to explore lie not in the hidden corners of the world, but in the hidden corners of my own self.
It is freedom that the ocean symbolizes, at least to me. Possibility. A sense that despite how much we know, there is much more that waits. In a strange way that comforts me. There is a certain beauty in knowing you are small that cannot be found in adopting the lie that you are large. Humility may not be the most desirable of the virtues, but it is among the most valuable. And if the ocean gives me anything, it is that needed sense of knowing my place in the world.
I have no knowledge of what first drew my ancestors to the sea. As much as I’d like to believe it was pure wanderlust, I understand it may well have been a simple matter of economics. The first Coffeys arrived in Virginia around 1609 as indentured servants. I have a feeling we’ve always been a common lot, scraping and struggling and working to survive.
Still, the sea called them as it calls me these many centuries later. We have that in common. In the end, time is the only thing that separates us. Despite everything I have that my ancestors didn’t, I suspect I’m much the same as they once were. Same worries, same fears. Same dreams. The only difference between us is that they listened to that siren song over the waters and I have not.
But there are times—many of them—when I long to do just that. For the freedom, as I’ve said. And the possibility.
That’s what I was thinking last Thursday morning, all in the span of a few brief minutes as I stood on my balcony with a pair of binoculars and watched as a shrimp boat made for the distant horizon. I watched the rising sun cast its light against a white hull that bobbed in the currents. Thought of the men on deck—who they were, where they were going, the ones, if any, they were leaving behind. And despite the comforts of place and family that surrounded me, I quietly longed to join them. To break free. To sail away. Just as my forefathers.
As those thoughts clunked around in my head, the binoculars found one sailor on the stern of the boat. Though the distance between us was far, he appeared scruffy, grizzled. A veteran of the sea. A man you would want next to you when the sky and sea turned angry. In him I saw a ghost of a man I could have been in another life had I been born to mountains rather than water.
He was my mirror, this small speck of man through my lens—the me I never was.
As he stood there I saw that he was not looking outward toward the horizon, but inward toward land. To home. And though our eyes never met, I knew his thoughts.
I was weary of the earth and longed to escape to the freedom of the sea.
He was weary of the sea and longed to escape to the warmth of the land.
And I thought then that perhaps that is all of us in our secret hearts, you and I and all who have come before us—seldom content to be here, always longing to be elsewhere.