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Low Tide, by Barb Hampton

The raging surf. White caps riding high above a blue wall that curls toward the shore. Roaring resonates through the air, building until the wild wave collapses, a mixture of water and energy, white foam spewing on the sand.

I am drawn to this oceanic image. I hang pictures on my walls of Image of Author Walking on Beach coastal expanses lined with rocks and sand, and skies full of sea gulls, sunsets and sunrises encompassing the billowing waves. I buy music in which I can hear the rhythm of the ocean pulsating behind the melodic notes.

When I have had the chance to be at the ocean, I stand on the sand and feel the salt spray against my face. I absorb the sound and the smell of the ocean vista. I watch high tide, when the ocean stretches as far as it is able, grasping at the world of sea grass and sand. As enchanting as the raging water is, I wait patiently for low tide.

The waters retreat into the depths, each slightly smaller than the one before, the waves slowly pull back, sound withdrawing into the watery expanse before me. The beach empties.

At low tide, I walk the waterís edge. I seek the treasures of the sea, searching for a piece of shell, a bit of driftwood. I watch the creatures abandoned by the retreating waters, digging for protection from predators.

The tides speak of living to me. Life roars. Experiences rush in. I revel in the height of the waves, seeking the peaks. In those moments everything clicks. It all works. Life is grand and glorious.

But it does not last. Like the ebb and flow of the tides, life retreats into the time between experiences. Days are filled with getting up, going to work, coming home. The sound of what has been is off in the distance. The doldrums set in.

I have been trying to make sense out of this rhythm all my life. In desperate moments I have grasped at the surf, hoping to see an answer in the raging waters at experienceís edge, trying to force my life into that fermenting pitch. At times, I have grieved the coming of the receding tides as if I had failed because the waters suddenly retreated.

Two years ago, when illness forced me inexorably to slow down, the rush of living pulled back, my life was revealed, and I began to walk along the shore.

Broken memories and images came to me of times I had been too busy to appreciate all that was going on around me. In the way that even the most fractured pile of shells can reflect the sunlight, I realized all my experiences had given me something precious to treasure. That day, standing at the edge, for a brief second, the motion stopped. The rippling calmed. Then, gently it began again. I knew in that moment something profound had happened, even if I could not fully grasp what it meant.

Much as I wanted, I could not remain at the shore. As my health returned, life tempted me yet again. I watched the peaks rising up around me. I yearned to rise to the challenges they seemed to offer and yet, in quiet moments, I yearned as deeply for low tide. It didnít make sense. Why not, now that I knew I was going to be healthy again, ride the waves around me? Why not strive to be on top?

May Sarton, in her "Journal of a Solitude", helped to express in words what I had discovered that quiet afternoon. She says, in her notes for April 7:

"It is hard not to be thrown by the re-entry into solitude after a week away, for I am at once attacked by many needs; many different kinds of response are required, when all I long for is to have twenty-four hours in which to sort out what has happened to me."

I have come to realize that low tides are more than just a predictable and unavoidable part of the ebb and flow of life. Low tides are certainly much more than part of a simply scientifically explained natural phenomenom. Low tides are essential to the cycle of living.

In the absence of low tide, high tide becomes just a roaring turbulence. The captivating power of the incoming tide challenges me to grow and expand. I rise to the challenge. Without an acknowledgement of the purpose of the cycle, low tide is merely a time when I wait impatiently for the surf to return. Without the blessed presence of low tides, I never would have the time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the experiences in my life.

By acknowledging the essential cycle of life, the calm ripple of low tide gives me the solitude to absorb what I have learned. I can look back over the twenty-nine years Iíve been married, treasuring both the moments of passion and the quiet that feels almost like disconnection. I can see how the ebb and flow of our closeness and distance is not just some quirk in who we are, nor is it a danger sign, dooming us to low scores on magazine quizzes designed to predict impending failure. The highs and lows are a vital function in our growth both as a couple and as individuals.

When the sea is roaring off in the distance, I can pick through the shells of my abilities. I can make sure Iím not overlooking a choice that, in the rumbling of high tide, might be tossed aside as an inefficient passing fancy by those who are trying to make me into their image of what they want me to be. At low tide, I can sort out what has happened to me so that life, with its ever-continuing ebb and flow, takes on authentic, soul-filled meaning.

Thatís why Iím where I am now. I have been standing at the edge of an empty strand of beach, in that quiet moment between tides, for many days. The sound of the experiences of the last two years echoes in the distance. The glimmer of the next experience has not yet come into view. Iím sure there are those who think I should be bored, or restless, or at the very least, actively planning my next challenge. Iím not Ė- bored, or restless or planning.

Without the rushing waters tugging at me, I have had time to gather my memories like precious shells. I hold them to my heart, knowing the waters will rise again. Until then, my soul is warmed by the sparkling sunlight glinting off the low tide treasures I hold in my hands.

Barb Hampton is a lady who wears many hats. In fact, she has so many hats that she carries a hat rack with her at all times. She describes herself as: Wife and Companion, Assistant Trust Officer, Empress, Grandmother, Mother, Friend, Minister, and Writer, although not necessarily in that order. "My goal is to be more than a figment of my imagination."

E-mail Barbara at:

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