Sunday, July 26, 2009

Death, Dying, Surfing, and the Absurd (Oct. 2008)

Life, at times, can be relentlessly serious. A family member of a friend (who has already suffered a disproportionate amount of loss in her life) is weeks away from dying too young….she has actually already gone and soon her body will follow as her loved-ones sit and wait, and hopefully, make some kind of peace with it all. Another dear friend has just come through a final surgery and is thankfully recovering from cancer and embracing life with a fierce, new gusto. And my adopted Jewish Grandmother, in her 80s, has just won her second battle with breast cancer and is worried about her pending trip to Europe, hoping she will be well and strong enough to share the adventure and joy with her granddaughter. This is the stuff of life and death and love…the looming of the inevitable while we work to appreciate the now. These are some of the dramas that are personal to me right now.

And then there is the “out there” I read about and watch on the news. I watch as the Atlantic Ocean launches cyclonic bombs at the islands and the southern coast. I watch as the banks fail and the value of our houses and retirement funds plummet. I watch as the price of gas skyrockets while oil companies reap record profits and the politicians babble on about what to do. I watch as McCain gains in the poles and the war rages on and on. I note again and again the conspicuous absence of reporting on the death tolls for non-Americans in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And last night I made the mistake of watching the chilling documentary, “Witness 911” (I should not have done that). And I listen to the pundits pontificate…and I watch as the debates narrow into ridiculous sound-bite slinging….and I marvel at the absurdity. And yet, I don’t want to write about these things. In fact, I can’t write about these things.

On Saturday my friend Deb and I headed to the beach even though it was overcast. We go where Deb has been going for decades, Scotchman’s Cove on the Newport coast, a picturesque stretch of clear water and rugged bluffs hugging a sandy beach peppered with rock reefs and jagged outcroppings. As we pulled into the parking lot we noted a large party of surfers putting on wetsuits and unloading their longboards…unusual for this particular beach. We grabbed our stuff and headed down the steep stairs to the beach and pitched our spot in the sand. We gabbed about this and that and the sky slowly cleared as the sun burned away the marine layer.

Then Deb suddenly says, “Look, it’s a funeral.” I turn around and sure enough there are about twenty-five surfers paddling out past the break towards a small power boat sitting in the calm sea. The surfers paddle into a circle next to the boat and Deb and I sit and watch in silence. A group of people stand at the stern of the boat apparently addressing the circle of surfers. After a few minutes the surfers begin cheering and splashing in unison. They are out there in the circle for some time remembering and celebrating…and then they paddle back to shore. They collect on the beach and eat and drink….the living remembering.

When we leave Deb and I walk along the water and we see the flowers, roses and plumarias everywhere…a beautiful littering of sentiment washed up along the edge of the great Pacific Ocean. I turn to Deb, my friend of 32 years, and say, “If I die before you, ask folks to paddle out for me, ok? Use my boards and spread me over the sea.” She smiles and nods, “Of course.”

No comments: