13 October 2007

A Father Story - Transcendence

My father and I sat in the van, in the pre-dawn twilight at the edge of the ocean, on Daytona Beach. We had driven all of the previous day and most of the night to get there. It was the last family vacation we took together – I was nineteen and had already moved out of the house (not on the best of terms), within a year I would be living in the commune, and all communication between us would cease until my first child was born.

I get motion sickness in a vehicle – car, bus, airplane – it doesn’t matter. If I am not the driver, I am ill. When my father is in the car he always drives. Always. On the trip from Indiana to Florida I decided to take medicine to keep from being carsick. I slept through three states and woke up somewhere in Georgia. Everyone else was asleep and my father was alone as he drove through the darkening evening. I crawled out of the pile of bodies and up into the passenger seat and watched as the roadside scenery flew past, briefly in and out of the illumination of the van’s headlights.

Along towards morning we arrived at our first destination – Daytona Beach. In 1977 you could drive out on the beach, right down to the ocean’s edge. We pulled up to the high-tide mark and turned off the engine. I closed my eyes and leaned back, deciding to try to sleep until daylight. Almost immediately my father nudged my shoulder, pointing out over the ocean. The band of sky just above the dark water line had turned from the black of night to a vivid, iridescent, dark turquoise. You could tell that the sun would soon be up.

Except for the gentle lapping of the waves, it was totally silent on the beach. As far as I could tell, there were no other people on the strip of sand stretching out into the darkness on either side of us. I watched as my father lit his pipe, tobacco glowing brightly as he inhaled, inhaled, inhaled – he always takes three deep puffs to light his pipe. When my night vision returned and I could see out into the darkness again, I saw a strange orange glow far out in the water, looking for all the world just like the glowing tobacco embers in my father’s pipe. I rubbed my eyes and blinked several times, unable to figure out what I was seeing. As we watched it became apparent that we were seeing the sun, seeing it shining through the water. We were seeing the sun before it rose, seeing it through the ocean, visible to us because of the curvature of the earth and the clarity of the water. For a few fleeting minutes it seemed like the ocean was aflame. Then the sun crested the horizon and the day was upon us.

At nineteen I was still far too self-absorbed to notice very many things beyond my immediate wants or needs, but sitting there on that beach it became evident to me that I was observing something outside of my normal daily experience. It felt like something that had been happening for millions of years, something that happened for the first time at that very moment, something that happens again each time I think of it.


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