The Sea

Bolinas, December 2008

On a visit to the library last week with Lily, I picked up Graham Swift's account of his writer life, Making an Elephant, and hardly put it down until I read the last page. Waterland and Last Orders have long been on my list of books to read, but I haven't come anywhere near reading them. I just haven't the urge to read novels lately. But essays pull me in, and Making an Elephant is a collection of essays on subjects as diverse as the genius of Montaigne to the love of the seaside. In the chapter "I do Like to Be Beside the Sea," originally a lecture delivered to a group of French academics in Nice, Swift wrote, "Whatever else the sea is, it's not us, it's the beyond. It makes us feel, and even be reconciled to, our insignificance. It's the great place which is no place, where no one lives. The sea is destiny, eternity, oblivion, death." Last Christmas, our family convened in a house by the sea in Bolinas, where we sat late into the the early morning hours around a big table, nursing our grief for our deceased father. His departure in the spring had cast us all adrift, and in those brief days by the sea, we laughed and cried in equal measure. By gathering ourselves in that tiny town on the coast, we peeled back the years to our childhood by the Pacific, when we grew up deliriously happy together under the watchful eyes of our father. Now his absence hovered around us, binding us once again even as distance and time separate us inexorably. I am reminded of this very special time, a tiny capsule in the sea where I've cast my life, a while ago when my brother Dai sent us, all his brothers and sisters, an email at 3:30 AM Pacific time, telling us he couldn't sleep and missed us all very much. "I miss you all..." I read those words, hurtled across a whole continent, in the pale morning light and was shattered.

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