Sitting, staring out at the sea, looking for answers

Sitting, staring out at the sea, looking for answers

Kitty Hawk — Everything’s so fragile these days.

Nothing’s built to last.

And when you’re caught between those twin realities, look out.

It’s no wonder a lot of people are freaked out, worrying about this and fretting about that, trying to do their best but finding out, over and over again, that it’s just never going to be good enough.

The world feels as if it’s reeling on its axis, liable to wobble and spin off into God only knows what kind of dystopian nexus of bad and worse.

At times like this, I find it comforting to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, disconnect the phone and just stare at the ocean, just me and the sea and infinity.

Oh, I know it’s hardly a panacea; after all, our Outer Banks vacation has a definite expiration date stamped on it, but for an escape into some tangible sort of solace, it’s hard to beat the Atlantic on an October afternoon.

I was doing the math the other night — as it rained and the fog rolled in — and it’s our fifth year in this cottage and our 19th trip to this delicate comma of barrier islands off the Carolina coast.

Seriously though, don’t trust me on those figures because I can barely subtract what little I’ve spent from what little I’ve saved.

Thankfully, my wife is a wizard at such matters, thus enabling me to devote more of my time to wondering why it is I’ve been utterly unable to hook up our brand-new flat-screen TV set.

Out of patience, I reboxed the damn thing and shoved it in a closet.

If I only had a 21st-century brain.

Instead, I’m stuck with what I’d describe as a case of nothing-I-can-do-about-it-itis, a rare disease that affects the problem-solving lobe of the cerebellum which, in terminal cases, leads to finding the patient sitting on a chair and staring at the ocean for hours on end.

I used to be good at knocking down metaphorical brush fires, containing the spread, limiting the damage and feeling good about myself. Lately, though, I feel like Atlanta after Sherman’s March.

Burned out, abandoned and useless.

When I was in college, I was assigned Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness.” I knew a bit about existentialism, and it appealed to me, so I was eager to learn more. But as is so often the case with idealists like me, his rejection of a personal state of fulfillment left me aching for something more, I don’t know, Oz-like.

When the Scarecrow realizes he’s had a brain all along, I always applaud, much the same way I do when I’m able to rewire my stereo system or change a tire in the rain.

That happened, interestingly enough, on one of the first dates I had with my wife, and I like to think she was impressed with me, that I wasn’t all hat and no cattle, as Texans like to say.

Because it’s moments like those that help to build the foundation of something meant to last, though at the time you’re muddling through it, all you can think is something like, “This is a mess.”

But you hack on, using your figurative machete to fight your way through the brambles, relying on that instinctive sense of survival, the one that has its genesis on the playground or in the classroom.

Nothing’s easy anymore.

Have you noticed that?

You work twice as hard for half as much. I’m not talking about wages or anything that base; on the contrary, it’s the unhealthy notion that no matter what you try to accomplish will be for naught.

So in the immortal words of Warren Zevon: “I appreciate the best, but I’m settling for less.”

For me, anyway, life has hardened into a pitched battle between the ideal and the impossible, a distinction without a difference, perhaps, but one that robs me of sleep and sends clarion bells into the night, alarms warning of time slipping away and chances lost.

We are all granted a finite number of days to make the most of our allotted lifespan, and it is a fearsome jolt to realize your footprint isn’t all that deep and the tides of time will most likely erase them without a thought.

The ocean, as I’ve written before, has no memory.

It has, I believe, a conscience, though, and that’s what I cling to: the notion that however puny our contributions might have been to the greater good, something of value survives when we’re gone.

The sea sees possibilities.

Cue Patti Smith, please:

“In the sheets there was a man

dancing around to the simple

rock & roll song.”

So where does that leave us in the 10th month of this foul year?

I suppose there are much worse places to be than sitting on the deck of an oceanfront cottage, Bob Dylan sharing the air with laughing gulls and prescient pelicans, singing about being alive on the beach at night, dancing under “a diamond sky,” fisting a free hand in defiance, hoping to forget about today until tomorrow.

How can we make a better tomorrow?

Is it even possible?

And if so, at what cost?

I’m very good at some things — playing fantasy football, crockpotting an old-fashioned roast beef supper, keeping tabs on old friends — but I run into problems when my world becomes fragile, liable to shatter and fall into nothingness.

So I’m lucky to find myself back on the Outer Banks, an ecosystem on loan from the climate-change gods, a place that will one day suffer a fate similar to Atlantis, without a Donovan elegy.

As I gaze at the ocean’s boundless majesty — awed, cowed and rendered small and insignificant — about the best I can do is write a few hundred words to share with an unseen audience, most of whom wish me well.

So that’s a good thing, a true blessing.

Here’s hoping your tomorrows are miles and miles better than your yesterdays and that somewhere in between you find a reason to believe in a time, as yet unloosed, that won’t be as susceptible to imminent breakage and irreparable loss than the one we’re in.

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