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When I was a child I used to stare quite often. This habit was considered annoying, impolite, and worrisome. Annoying, because it happened almost on daily basis. Impolite, because no one likes being monitored by another person, especially a child. Worrisome, because it was imposible to determine the source of the behavior. Was it desirable curiosity or lack of understanding that comes from slowness?

Sometimes I stared at people, sometimes at objects, sometimes even at the page of a book, mostly to ponder and admire the shape of letters and wonder if the sound of speech—the rising and falling of a voice—is somehow correlated to the wiggly shapes on paper. Of course, it had nothing to do with reading, and that’s why I could stare at one page for, as the adults warned, way (way, way) too long.

My favorite staring happened in my parents’ bedroom, as I lay on a daybed with my head hanging over the edge, and looked at the picture behind glass above my parents’ bed. The picture’s width was probably greater than my height, and the upper edge of the frame tilted forward, reflecting the window overlooking Wejherowska Street. Back then, in the 70s, cars were passing by rarely—maybe one every several minutes. I can’t decide if the stillness, the anticipation of a car, or the wavy movement in the glass when a car passed, was more appealing to me, but I know that my resignation of staring was prompted only by the surge of blood in my temples.

What exactly kept me staring? I didn’t know then, and perhaps today I am only trying to find out, as I sit on a deck right on the beach in Kitty Hawk, NC, staring at the ocean.

The ocean rushes to the shore, and I wait for the wave. I watch it bulging out of the imagined dark depths, and roll itself into a white hunchbacked ridge, and plunge back into the depths. The ocean comes and comes in waves and waves in constant constant sound. The ocean is like words on the page, the sound of the ocean is like the voice that speaks for what is on the page. The ocean is like a car passing by in waves and waves on the glass above my parents’ bed. I am there and here staring into something I can’t define, but it makes me strangely still and content. I suspect that the movement of the surface of the ocean comes from deep stillness of the depths, and I wonder about the center from which it all comes to me–in waves, in waves in constant constant coming.

Not surprisingly, I find a very similar experience described in a memoir, Lucky That Way by Pamela Gerhardt (University of Missouri Press, coming out in October).

Here is the excerpt:

Our stiff, Midwestern legs struggled on the uneven, soft sand as we made our way toward the crashing noise. I was 12 and had recently perfected the eye-roll every time my dad said something. Is there any greater child/parent distance than that of a 12-year-old girl and her father? But no one had warned me about the noise. Something powerful and immense stood before us, only a few yards away, and I forgot to remember to be cynical. Suddenly we were there, standing on the edge of the continent, our feet in the warm, foamy water, and I realized I was holding Dad’s hand.

For Gerhardt, the twelve year old girl sha was—oh, how I can imagine her!—was subconsciously transformed by the sound of the ocean to the point that she gravitated towards her father amid the distance she imposed—rightfully following the adolescent calling—between herself and him. 

Perhaps the movement and the sound are seductive. They bring me and the twelve year old Gerhardt to the center of stillness, deep within. And the only question remaining asks: Is the stillness in the depth of the ocean and the stillness in the depths of us the same? I want to imagine that they cross somewhere, and the precise point of crossing is the unexplainable center of the universe. I imagine the waves coming and coming to the point of crossing, and at the crossing everything stops to become the perfect stillness, the perfect depth, the perfect essence of everything. 

 

 

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