Monday, October 20, 2014
I look out this morning to find a horizon drawn by God's straight-edge. Put a level on it and the bubble would be right square in the middle...I'd bet on it. Ocean horizons are defined and dependable. They are predictable. They are set and unchangeable.
No they're not.
It's estimated that a six foot tall person with his feet firmly planted in the sand will be able to see out to sea for three miles, and then the earth will rudely curve itself out of the picture. Should he climb the lifeguard tower, the horizon moves out to around five miles. From the patio of a Gulf front condo-say on the 10th floor-the ocean's horizon gets really gnarly, somewhere close to twelve miles out.
Where, pray tell, is this all going? Well, we'll just keep poking at it and see what pops out.
Let's start with Robert Browning, a 19th century English poet, married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a bit of a fox if I may say so. And it was from inspiration of that foxy lady, I suppose, that spawned the lines: "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be." From another work, he gives us: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"
As I sit here immersed in the white noise of the waves, fifty yards from the slow boil of the tide in the Gulf of Mexico, perched some forty feet above the beach, my horizon teases me from a distance of eight miles. When, last evening, I stood at ocean's edge, I was limited to a panorama of three miles. (And, by the way, if you wondered why you had to suffer through the scribblings of Pythagoras in high school geometry, you can't get to these numbers without his theorem.)
But let's keep going. In order to gain that extra five miles to the brink of the horizon, I had to do work. I had to experience some level of accomplishment. And that accomplishment came a some sacrifice. In the most basic sense, I had to drag luggage and food and every Apple device ever created up a couple of flights of stairs and stow all of it in the condo. I distinctly remember sweating. Profusely. Shouldn't be a big deal but when Bobby Browning invited us to grow old with him, I'm not sure that he was doing a ton of step climbing. At a secondary level, I had to work for many years and do the correct things around planning for the future so that one day I would be able to meet the financial obligations of a week on the Gulf coast. Not exactly up to the standard of challenges faced by Warren Buffet, but something beyond a Christmas savings account at the local bank. Regardless, let's be honest...we're still at the most basic level of meeting obligations and being even remotely diligent.
I could stair-step us right along at this point, but I think I'll just get to it. Our horizon is nothing more than our reach. And no matter who we are, we do have the ability to reach as far as we possibly can. Sometimes we choose to reach...I mean really stretch it out there...and sometimes we simply decide to go for only that which is within arm's length. It's our choice. That simple.
So the question is: is there really a discernible difference between seeing three miles of emerald green and agate blue versus eight miles? I mean, the sea is the sea, isn't it?
Well, my answer is yes. The sea is the sea. And, yes. There is a difference. You can continue to climb after your legs buckle, you can choose to reach higher and longer, you can fight harder, and you can maintain a death grip on every foot...every inch...that you attain. Because that extended horizon means a few more precious seconds of that delicious sunset - that melting ice cream sundae overflowing with cherry and strawberry sky and whipped cream clouds. It's being able to see that magnificent ship steaming eastwardly six miles from shore, the ship that's not even a figment of your imagination when you limit yourself to three miles of horizon. You have another zillion gallons of emerald sea for your eyes to relish before it meets that bank of clouds along God's razor-fine straight-edge. It's the opportunity for another drop of satisfaction, another small bite of life...one more verse of your favorite song.
In the end, when you find yourself blessed to have lived a life that has recognized the value of conscious, dedicated effort, that is a gift in itself. The bonus is having that prolonged reach being rewarded by an extraordinary grasp that we pray we will find a way to be worthy of.
I watch two seagulls breakfasting in the foam of the ebbing tide. The breeze has picked up, ruffling the feathers of a persnickety blue heron. The casual dining partners skitter back and forth devouring random treats. Their horizon, according to Pythagoras, is less than a mile. Poor birds. Much less then a mile. But, after a while, when they take wing with full stomachs and wet, sticky feet, they climb the currents of the sea breeze with amazing ease. Higher and higher they go, until they are two indistinct dots against the blazing blue sky. And I think, my God...they have the power to create an endless horizon - no limits, no ending! And I believe it is just that, my friends, that Robert Browning was referring to when he said that the best is yet to be. And, yes, yes, yes. That is what a heaven's for.