Conversation with a Wave

The rocking motion of the waves lulled me into a dreamy reverie. My drifting sailboat lolled side to side with the crests and troughs. The sun was bright and warm. It seeped through my skin into my bones, my heart, and my spirit. The only sounds were the gentle lapping of the waves, the tapping of the halyards, and the rhythmic creaking of the mast. I lay on the deck thinking about absolutely nothing, feeling one moment slip into the next, carrying with it the taste of the ones it followed.

I thought about where I had been just a day before. The frantic pace of the board meeting stirred us like the cups of coffee we had scalded ourselves with. Even while I looked calm and confident as I led my team through the most important negotiation ever, I felt like my bones were melting. I was amazed I could even stand up. We had succeeded, though, and my invention, a wallet-sized, cellular Internet communication device was about to become a resounding success. For seven years I had fought, begged, struggled, cheated, cajoled, and finally created a winner. Within a decade, every person on the planet would be in touch with every other. And the next few years would undoubtedly be the busiest of my life. I planned to make the next few days the most peaceful.

“Damn! I’m thinking about work again!” I tried to clear my mind… No, that won’t work. I let my mind become clear. Release the thoughts. Tie them to the head of the spinniker and let them flap away. DRift on the breeze. Slowly. All my tremulous thoughts rising slowly away, rocking in the wind, further and further, receding into the endless sky. Eyes closed. Gone now.

I felt an incredible, peaceful sense of “oneness” with everything around me; the boat, the water, the earth, the sun, everything. I felt the connection between that moment, the next one, and the one before. I was a part of everything in that instant… that moment which was a part of all time. I drifted into the oneness, the wholeness of everything. I was no longer aware of my body, of the hot sun, the creaking mast, of the rocking of the boat…

“How strange,” I thought. “the rocking really has stopped.” And the mast was no longer creaking. Yet there was a definite sensation of movement. I opened my eyes and looked up, shading them from the sun. I looked along the forty-foot length of the boat I had rented for the weekend. Everything looked normal. The sun glinted off the polished boards of the deck. The jib was trimmed with the fairleads forward to catch the wind. The traveller was to leeward so the main could keep its shape. Various lines were all wound neatly on the deck. The thin, well worn body of the mast pointed into the noonday sun. Through the open entrance to the cabin I could see my unmade bed, and the kitchen (excuse me, the “galley”). Everything looked normal.

I looked out into the sea. The boat was alone in the water. There was nothing around me. To the west, the hazy outline of the Massachusetts shore looked distant, perhaps a few miles away. There were waves on the surface of the sea, but I was not moving over them anymore. Somehow I was moving with them. I looked behind me, toward the stern, to see if the engine was running. It was not. But behind the boat there was a small, strong wave smoothly pushing me along before it.

“How odd,” I said aloud, “that the wave has taken it upon itself to push me along.” I was not a seasoned sailor and had no idea just how unlikely this was.

A soft, wet voice bubbled “What’s so odd?”

I jumped. The strange voice startled me. I looked around quickly, but could see no one. The voice seemed to come from the top of the wave, from the windy froth at the peak. “You are in my ocean and I needed to push something. Am I disturbing you?” There was no doubt now. I could see by the movement of the whitecap that it was, indeed, the wave speaking. Was I dreaming? Hallucinating? I tried to remember where the Bermuda Triangle was… farther South, I’m sure. But whatever the cause, there was no point in denying it.

“Not at all. You’re not disturbing me.” I said, loud enough to be heard, I hoped. “I’ve never spoken to a wave before and I’m pleased, astonished really, to make your acquaintance. My name is ‘Mark.’”

“Likewise, sandman Mark” gurgled the wave. I wasn’t sure I heard him clearly. “They call me ‘Shouting Seaweed Clamshell Driftwood.’”

I pondered that for a few moments as I studied my new friend. He was long and fairly thin. Not as tall as most of the other waves, he rose about five feet. I noticed a very pronounced curl at the base of his whitecap that the other waves didn’t have. As I watched, the wave rolled over a clump of seaweed which rose into the body of the wave, passed through the peak, then down the back of the wave. “May I ask who calls you ‘Shouting Seaweed Clamshell Driftwood?’”

“Why, other waves, of course. Can’t you see them all around us?”

I looked around my boat. Indeed there were several other waves. Some were just small ripples, others were large, powerful looking waves. Some were traveling together, others seemed to be connected. As I looked even harder, I began to notice significant differences between them, recognizable differences in their shapes, sizes, and especially, their whitecaps. I thought back to the summers I had spent at the beach as a child. I had loved riding the waves and I remembered my private names for the different kinds; “Stubbies” looked small but contained a lot of power. “Shushers” would run high onto the sand and threaten parents’ towels. “Drifters” looked like good riding but would dwindle down to nothing before they crashed. Then there was the occasional loved and feared “big riders.” If you caught them just right they would send you on a wild screaming ride through the air and water and let you crash with them to a tumbling, laughing mass of bubbly foam.

“Are these your friends?” I asked.

“Some of them. That long one over there has been rolling with me for some time… we’ve made several ripples when the moon was full and we were infused with power. That tall one is an Elder. He doesn’t say much, but when he does we all pay attention. He doesn’t have much longer. Soon his travel will be over. See that one behind us? The one with the strong curl at the top? Not long ago, when the wind was really strong I was able to speak with her and I liked what she said. Her name is ‘Windy Moon Reflection’ and she said she wished to travel nearer to me. That’s why I am pushing your boat… so I can slow down and roll closer to her.”

“Yes, she’s very pretty.” I agreed. “Why do they call you ‘Shouting Seaweed Clamshell Driftwood?’”

The base of the wave swelled with pride. “I am the loudest talker in the sea! I can talk so loud that even you can hear me. Most waves only whisper and can only talk when another is right beside them. It can be endlessly frustrating to pass messages from wave to wave as they often get garbled. I can speak for miles. The ability to speak over distances is highly prized among waves. Wait, I’m going to tell her I’m pushing a sandman’s boat and will be nearby soon.”

There was silence… or not quite. The wind whistled through the crest of my friend as the tip of his writhing whitecap frothed. Amazing! He said that the ability to speak over distances was highly prized. I guess that’s prized among humans, too. My invention made it easier to speak over long distances. Perhaps Shouting Seaweed Clamshell Driftwood and I had something in common.

“Ahhh,” said the wave finally. “She is waiting for me.”

“Why do you call me a ‘sandman?’” I asked.

“Why, because you’re made of sand, of course.”

I was about to object, and explain that we were made of cells, and complex organs. But then I realized that, perhaps it is all just sand. Plants grow in the sand, we eat the plants and the animals that eat the plants, and our bodies, our cells, are made of what we eat. And when we die, we become the sand again. As ridiculous as it sounded, I had to agree. I was a sandman. I looked down to where the base of the wave met the sea.

“How deep do you go?” I asked.

There was no answer for a long time. I thought that perhaps something had happened. Maybe the dream was over or I had inadvertently offended my friend. Then the gurgly voice of the wave said, “I don’t understand.”

“How deep do you go. How deep into the ocean are you? How far beneath the surface of the sea do you go?”

Silence again, then in a tone I almost took to be a bit condescending “How could I go beneath the surface of the sea without dying? We travel on top of the sea. The sea itself doesn’t move. You don’t go into the sand, do you? How deep do you go?”

Somehow his answer left me confused. How could my friend possibly ignore the fact that he is a part of the sea? In fact he is the sea… there’s no difference. How deep do I go? That’s almost a “stupid question.” Maybe that’s why the wave seemed annoyed. I changed the subject. “Tell me about the Elder. You said that his traveling will be over soon. What did you mean?”

“He is tall and thin now. Soon his crest will begin to fall. He will flatten out and cease to exist. It will be sad when he goes. He has taught me a lot and I will miss him.”

“Where will he go?” I asked.

“Oh they say he becomes ‘one with the sea,’ but, in truth, he’s just gone.”

“Who says he becomes one with sea?”

“Those are the religious ones.” The wave burbled. “I can’t really say as I believe the stuff they spout. I think that maybe they have a few degrees missing from their arcs. There’s this story that’s been around for a long, long time. They say it comes from the very beginning of time. They tell it to all the children. Would you like to hear it?”

“Yes!” I said. I sat and leaned against the wooden mast of my little boat, pushed along by a talking wave, ready to hear the story of creation.”

“A long time ago, nothing existed at all. The sea was absolutely calm… not even a tiny ripple in the whole world. There was no life, no sound. Everything was completely still and completely silent.
All of a sudden, out of the sky came crashing the ‘first stone.’ The first stone was absolutely tremendous. It was bigger than the biggest mountains and as hot as the sun itself. When it hit the whole world shook. It crashed so hard that on the other side of the globe a whole mountain was thrown off the earth and shot so high into the sky that, to this day, it still hasn’t fallen. We call it the moon and we are still connected to it.

That stone hit so hard that the splash was a thousand waves high. In fact, much of the sea was thrown up in the air and it became the First Wave. The air was filled with steam and the water was filled with debris and in that maelstrom the First Wave could speak so loudly he was heard around the world. He said:

‘When I crash back into the sea, the ripples that form shall be my children. And the Children of the Wave shall go forth and populate the seas. Each one shall be born of me and shall return to me when their rolling stops. And they shall be born again of me in their ripples.’

And so the First Wave crashed down into the sea, giving up his life and forming us all. All the sea is the body of the First Wave. And that is where we go when we die.
Of course, that’s just the story we tell our children. I suppose it also makes the elders feel better about dying.”

I sat in awe. “What a powerful story! But I still don’t understand something. You’re made of the water of the sea, and the sea is made of the same water. Why can’t you go down inside the sea?”

“You mean die?” A puzzled glint of the sun dazzled me for a moment.

The wave just wouldn’t understand. “Let me tell you how I see it. You are made of the same stuff as that which you roll on; the ocean. Some of the stuff that you are made of now will, in a few moments, be a part of your friend who rolls behind you. If you want to speak to her, instead of shouting across the troughs, go deep inside yourself, down into that which connects you all and gives you life. You’ll see that you and she, and everyone else, is one… connected deep inside. You will be able to speak to her clearly, no matter how far away you are.”

Then I began thinking, how deep do we go? Not into the sand or the dirt, but into that which gives us life. As humans, we also spring from a common pool. We call ourselves “life forms.” We are the containers, the forms, made of sand, in which life resides for a time. When our form ends, our energy, the energy we call life, goes back into that pool, from which new life is drawn. The body goes into the sand, but the life goes someplace else. Energy is always conserved, just as the water of the sea is conserved… it just changes form. Can we go into that energy, transcend our form, and be connected to everything, and everyone else? Can we go deeper? Technology allows us to communicate with everyone on the planet through radio, television, telephone, and computers. Is this only a poor substitute for our deeper potential to connect? Are we merely “shouting across the waves?”

I wondered if my marvelous invention was simply giving mankind something they already had the potential for, something they really didn’t need. Maybe I was just giving people an easy way out. I provided a way they could communicate without having to go deep inside and connect with the life force. I suppose that, going deep, the only kind of communication you could have would be honest and important. With my device, a man doesn’t need to honor life and truth. He can say whatever he wants to. He can lie. Is my life’s work about telling lies?

My rented boat began rocking again. I looked at the wave. It was receding. My friend’s voice was only a wet whisper now. “It’s been wonderful speaking with you, but it is time for me to go. You have some strange ideas sandman. Goodbye.”

I watched the wave, now rolling beside a smaller one, froth at its crest as my boat rocked slowly on the gentle sea. I asked “How deep do I go?”

“How deep do I go?”