A true story of a little adventure of mine.
We were on vacation, my family and I. Bar Harbor, Maine. A small town on the coast. We’d been here six or seven times before. The sounds, the sights, and the smells were all too familiar. I lived there in a past life, I think. Near the coast, walking along the shoreline and smelling that smell which is sweet to some, but bitterly unpleasant to others. Bar Harbor is a home, of sorts.
This trip was different, however. I planned on doing something that I had never done before, something that I needed to do.
In our house, a quaint, little, cottage-like home that we rented as a tradition, I sat watching TV with my Dad. Family Feud, I remember. It was late, maybe 12:30 in the morning.
Silence filled the house. It was almost suspenseful, like those few moments before a masked man or a make-believe monster jumps to claim a victim. All I could hear was the faint drone of the television, and the dull, sustained snoring of my sleepy father. An early morning departure meant an early evening to bed. Everyone was asleep.
Everyone except me.
I lay awake, awake as I had ever been, eyes stuck open, and mind whirring like a ceiling fan that worked too well for its own good. I knew that, soon, I needed to get up. But I laid there, looking at the walls and thinking about nothing.
Eventually, I managed to get up from the couch. I stood up, quietly slipped on my shoes, zipped up my jacket, and escaped out the front door.
Outside it was cold, but not freezing. Cold enough to make me rub my hands together and stuff them in my pockets. Cold enough to see a faint cloud of my breath after every exhale.
But the cold waan’t what bothered me. No, the cold was the least of my worries. It was the darkness that made me apprehensive. It was the darkness that held me back.
I stared, for a few minutes, into the night that was so black that it seemed to have no existence at all. Nothing could be seen, nothing could be heard. It was, in a word, dead.
But I knew better. I knew that there was something more than what I perceived. There was something underneath this first layer. There was existence.
I urged myself to move.
My first steps were slow, but I was moving. Gravel crunching under my old, torn, Vans, I was moving.
Down the path, the one that I had been down so many times before, I walked through a darkness that made me feel like the smallest, most timid child. It never seemed so horrifying before, so ominous and daunting. A column of darkness, a gauntlet of black through which I had to pass to get to where I wanted to be. I was, in every possible sense of the word, scared.
But I didn’t let my fear hold me back. I pushed on with a steady, slow pace, breathing in the thin night air that seemed so easy to breathe. I pushed on, with the night and all that it held closing in around me.
Finally, I came to the end of the path. I came out and I heard that familiar sound, the sound that everyone deserves to hear at least once in their life. The soft flow of a calm ocean on the shore. The gentle push of the water against the earth. It’s so simple if you think about it. The sound of water against rocks.
But there’s nothing like it. Nothing like the sound of waves crashing on a beach.
I was close, maybe thirty feet or so. I could smell that smell, almost taste it. But I wasn’t close enough. I hadn’t come all this way just to observe from afar. So I walked onto the rocky border that separated me from the water. I walked tentatively, like I was navigating a mine field. Carefully evading sea weed trip wires and explosive tide pools, I tip-toed my way to the edge.
There it was. Staring at me as I stared at it. The ocean, an expanse that was almost as black as the night. When I looked on, there was no end. Darkness as far as my eyes strained to see. Faint outlines of the wake appeared in the distance, letting me know that there was something there, that this was the ocean that I knew.
And there I was. On the edge of what I thought was my life. One more step and my tattered shoes that had carried me this far would be introduced to the thing that I had adventured to see.
I stood. I stood and absorbed all of the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings. Each push of the ocean didn’t just soak in to the beach, but it soaked in to me. There was no ocean, no beach, no me. Just the world.
The water pushed.
Then pulled away.
The ocean pulsed.
I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t tear myself away. But I knew that, at some point, I had to.
I stood for a few minutes longer, looking over the ocean and all that it possessed, and I began to think.
I could turn around and go back. I could walk back to the place where my family slept, go to bed, dream of where I had been, wake up, and go on living. I could go back to everything that I knew, everything that was familiar to me. My life and all of the things that were attached to it. I could go back to being me.
But I couldn’t help but ask myself what would happen if I fell forward. What would happen if I kept walking? What would happen if I slipped in? What would happen if I embraced the ocean like it had embraced me? What would happen if I closed my eyes, held out my arms, and let it all fall away?
As I stood and thought, thought about both of these things, thought about what they meant and why they meant it, I asked myself one last question.
What’s the difference?