The Way Back
The way back is always longer.
The clouds are high, white as bleached sheets. Somewhere behind them is the sun, so bright that, even shielded by sunglasses, my eyes are squinting. The waves flap and overlap and tease my feet in unpredictable rhythm.
This is what I do at the beach: I walk. I play in the water, push children on boogie boards, sit in low chairs and observe the species, but mostly I walk. And this week I’ve done it seven times on two different islands. I’ve dodged jellyfish and horseshoe crabs, fishing lines and lifeguard stands, sand castles, sand buckets, and sandwiches. I’ve listened to squealing toddlers and squeaking wheels and squawking seagulls. I’ve watched the tides move in and out, the boats move in and out, the people move in and out. All while walking. Left, right, left.
This morning I walk for the last time. The last time for this time. It is still early and the only other people on the beach are the dog-walkers, the runners, and the shell-seekers. I head north, toward the lighthouse where my friend Jason proposed to my friend Amy, toward the jetty where my friend Francie got a cut on her leg that left an inches-long scar, toward some undetermined-as-of-yet spot where I will decide to turn around and head back.
It is quiet enough, still enough that all I have to dodge is thoughts, all there is to hear is my own inner voice, all there is to watch is where I put my step. A rare moment.
I find myself considering other shorelines upon which I have walked – Cape Cod in October’s early morning fog, Key West in pressure cooker heat, the various islands in this chain we Georgians call ours – and I realize, just about the time I notice the sun’s rapid ascent and decide to turn around, that there is one thing all those walks had in common. The way back was always longer.
Not in inches or yards or miles. Not, really, even in measurable time. The way back was longer because there is no novelty to the view. The way back was longer because the anticipation had come to an end. The way back was longer because all that walking made me tired.
Kate and I were talking just the other day about reconciliation, making amends, asking forgiveness. Those are big topics these days and there can be no argument that our tiny blue dot floating in the endless darkness of space needs a lot of all of them, but I think it’s easy, when you’re focusing on the big picture, to forget that the little picture is even there.
Yes, we as a nation, a state, a people have a long way to go in relating to each other, all the each others, with fairness and in love. But just as important (Some might argue even more important.) is how we as individuals treat the each others we know, with whom we share office space, a classroom, a history, with whom we share or used to share an address or a name. When that treatment is less than fair, less than loving, when we, literally or figuratively, walk away from our responsibilities as bearers of the divine spirit, all we do is make the way back – the only, singular, solitary way back – longer.
I’ve gone far past the lighthouse now, way beyond the jetty and, suddenly, I know it’s time to turn around and walk in the other direction. I am hot and thirsty and tired. I am not looking forward to retracing my steps. And, yet, I begin. One step in the opposite direction is the beginning of the way home.