I sit watching the dawn rise over the ocean—always a different ocean—whose molecules perhaps touched my far younger self as I fished with my father. I sit here now, in peace, and contemplate the patterns left in the sand, the rocks in the water, the sound of waves. It takes but an instant to gain a freeing calm, a soothing generous gift from the earth.
I never had this sense of peace as a child. If I calmed down for one minute, a rock would push its way into my consciousness. A rock that needed to be dug up, retrieved, explored for urchins, thrown into the water; a source of chaos that my father eventually had to quell.
Today’s version of his daughter understands his need for those calm hours at the water. Comprehends that the long pole he carried was his guardian against interruption. That the fish we ate were merely an excuse, although a welcome one, for his pre-dawn slipping away from responsibilities, for his hours spent alone. For his departure, for a while at least, from struggles: for his dive into peace.
And finally I think about the morning, while I was high in the Himalayas of northern India, that he rose for the final time in those predawn moments. A short time later he could’ve been at a beach like this one, whose water lapped his favorite city, his home, his San Francisco. He could have been hooking cornmeal balls carefully crafted the night before to tease the fish.
Maybe he, or his spirit, did all those things. Maybe he is still doing them. Maybe it is him that I watch in the distance, hanging on to the pole that reaches over waves that lap the beaches of Sri Lanka. Maybe it is he who is watching over me, teaching me to enjoy life in a new way.
I can’t know for certain, because on that morning, while I slept in a tent beneath a 20,000 foot peak in the Himalayas, my father slipped quickly away.
I see a fisherman in the distance, and, as so often when I am again in the time zone of the land I explored as he, too, started exploring something new, my mind turns to Papa with an inevitability that is both familiar and soothing.