Happiness is shaking hands with the Sea

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 17, 2002

"...in that simple ritual I found...an awesome connectedness with everywhere and everywhen."

Sweltering from the current heat wave? One of our e-mail coffee companions, inspired by last week's note from Sandy Corenblum on making one's own happiness, sent this suggestion for having fun on a scorching-hot day:

WATER BOMBS help lighten the mood on those blah days. You don't actually hit the person; just come close. Guaranteed to keep you giggling all day. There is a downside, however. The bombee needs a wonderful non-retaliatory sense of humour for this to remain fun for the bomber.

—Debbie Faulkner, Calgary

I THINK DEBBIE is referring to water-filled balloons. When I was a kid of six or seven, I found water-filled paper bags also worked very well. But I quickly learned why you don't drop them on little girls wearing their prettiest Sunday going-to-church clothes.

Actually, one of my most satisfying experiences relates to water – specifically, shaking hands with the Sea. I wrote about this a few years ago, but since most of you have joined our coffee table since I first published that column, I'd like to share it with you once more:

In Auguries of Innocence William Blake writes of holding "Infinity in the palm of your hand." That's how I felt recently while making my not-often-enough pilgrimage to the west coast. Let me explain.

I was visiting Vancouver Island and took the tortuous road through Port Alberni and over the pass to Ucluelet for lunch, then north to the Long Beach section of Pacific Rim National Park, the 10 km long sand, rock and driftwood welcome mat for ocean waves roaring in from the Orient.

Walking for a ways along what must be one of the smoothest stretches of sand in all of Canada, tongues of surf licking at my feet, I paused for a ritual that I started many years ago when I first met my old friend: I reached down into the water and shook hands with the Sea.

Well, it wasn't exactly "shaking hands;" it was more like cupping the water in my hands, raising it up, and letting it run down my arms. Just for a moment.

Yet in that simple ritual I found once again an awesome connectedness with everywhere and everywhen.

The Sea, you see, has seen it all. The very molecules of water I was holding – if I've calculated correctly, there were more molecules of water in my cupped hands than there are stars in all the galaxies of all the known universe – have traveled the entire world many times over. They have recycled through all of history, journeyed to places I could only dream of, been intimately part of the pleasures and pains of all of life.

Some have descended from the heights of Everest, the Swiss Alps, and the high Andes. Others have come down the Danube, the Amazon, and the Mississippi. They have kissed the shores of every continent, every island. They have liberated themselves from the icy grip of Antarctica and Greenland, escaped the darkness of the Mariana Trench, explored the Northwest Passage, and risen from the Dead Sea.

Some of the water molecules in my hand helped carve the Grand Canyon; some were in the blue-green algae at the beginning of life. Some were in the cells of the first human beings; some were in the sweat of the builders of the Pyramids, and in the river that supported the baby Moses in the bulrushes.

Some were in the wine of celebration in the glory days of Rome; some were in the tears of grief and despair in Auschwitz and along the Trail of Tears. Some washed Pilate's hands; some moistened Jesus' lips.

Some played with dolphins off Tahiti; some crushed ships in the Strait of Magellan. Some brought relief for thirsty crops in Africa; some washed the crops away in terrible floods in Manitoba.

And some painted a rainbow of hope for the future.

Yes, all these journeys and memories were cupped in the palms of my hands as I greeted the Sea. The water caressed me with its stories and reminded me that I, too, will become part of its legend some day.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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