“Nobody wants to be anywhere. Nobody likes anything.”
Jerry Seinfeld – 23 Hours To Kill
If there’s a single statement which accurately describes the spirit of our age, these words from Seinfeld do as well as any. He finishes the thought by saying, “We’re cranky, we’re irritable, and we’re dealing with it by constantly changing locations.”
I will add to this by saying, when we’re unable to change locations, we change our situation virtually––scrolling social media until we’re outraged to the point of exhaustion, or gorging ourselves on the smorgasbord of Netflix until we’re drooling.
You and I are engaged in a forever struggle to arrive at a mythical land called Somewhere. If or when we ever find ourselves somewhere, we invariably conclude that this is not the Somewhere we thought it would be. Most of us manage to cling tightly enough to our hopes of Somewhere––a place where we will be content and never again feel the compulsion to be anywhere else––that we spend our entire lives pining for a dreamworld.
It’s only in the past couple years I’ve begun to ask myself, what if the Somewhere I’m searching for does not exist, and the thing I’m really searching for has been with me all along? I think it is. It’s here with me as I write these words, just as it’s with you as you read them. What is it? It’s difficult to explain. I’ll need to use metaphor to get close. Of course, our reality is sculpted from metaphor, isn’t it?
Paddle Boarding has been an escape for me these days. There is much I like about it, but I think my favorite part is the sound. If you get out on the lake early enough, before the speed boats and jet skiers tear up the calm, the sounds can be intoxicating. Ripples kissing the nose of the board. Paddle piercing air, liquid, air. Breath. It’s like the universe is singing to me, and I’m part of the chorus.
When I know a visit to the lake is in my near future, it’s difficult for me to focus on much else. It’s too easy to convince myself that the lake is the Somewhere my heart has longed for, and once I get there, “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” This invariably proves not to be so. Though there are fleeting moments of wellness on the lake, no paddle boarding trip is without its frustrations.
Preparations are tedious––Don’t forget!: sunscreen, hat, shades, drinking water, PFD, paddle, dry bag, and did I mention water? (It gets HOT out there, baby!) Once, I’d paddled forty-five minutes into a calm lake before realizing I’d left my water bottle in the car. By the time I’d gone back and fetched it, the early morning jet skiers were hard at work, shattering the glassy water.
And sometimes there’s wind.
Recently, I found myself on the lake during an unusually quiet morning. The day was overcast, and without the sun’s glare, the water appeared dark, like ink. For a time, I felt like the writer’s quill, coasting the surface of the inkwell, and who was the Writer? I’ll tell you––it was Everything.
I found a spot near the lake’s center to relax and watch a hawk draw circles in the gray-soup sky, every now and then plummeting like an arrow through the water’s surface with the intent of catching a fish. I wondered, How can the hawk see any fish through such black water? Perhaps it couldn’t. I never did see it catch anything.
I’d been out maybe half an hour when I saw ripples forming on the surface of the lake, only notable because the water had been so incredibly still up till then. The minor current had me meandering back toward the launch point for a time, and it wasn’t until I spotted a pair of kayakers fighting to paddle my direction that I realized I was no longer just floating; I was nearly sailing. The wind had its hand on my tiny craft, and it meant to pin me to the near side of the lake, ending my expedition after it had hardly begun. This is where the Wind and I began our dispute.
It wasn’t until I’d spun my board to look that petulant Wind in the face that I began to appreciate its power. This was no tranquil summer breeze; it was a miniature gale, strong enough to bend the tops of trees that lined the water. I could tell this Wind was a stubborn bastard, but so am I. For all my righteous criticisms of the polarization of society, I found myself polarized against nature itself. Call me a hypocrite. The Wind meant to keep me on one side of the lake, so I resolved to get myself to the opposite side.
Standing on the board was not an option, nor was remaining upright on my knees. The more of my body that remained vertical, the better the Wind’s grip on me, so I forced myself to stay low, as parallel with the board as I could manage. This proved difficult, since I had to paddle non-stop to keep from losing any progress I’d made. If I paused even a moment to rest, I would immediately lose all momentum and be carried backwards.
It proved to be one of the most difficult workouts I’ve ever done. The burn started in my hands and wrists and didn’t stop until it made its way to nearly every muscle and joint in my body. Even my face hurt from the pressure of gritting my teeth between the various insults I cried in the face of that malicious Wind. I thought of the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God. I’ve always pictured him grappling with some apparition, complete with ghostly arms and legs, but there on the lake, I thought it could have been the Wind Jacob fought. Or perhaps it was some other natural order he was determined to violate––Earth or Gravity or even Death.
After nearly an hour of ceaseless paddling, I reached the shallow water buoy on the opposite end and declared myself the victor. I’d fought God and won.
What did I win, exactly? I have no paddle boarder’s championship trophy to show for my effort. Nobody was there to witness my accomplishment, and even if anyone had seen, they’d have more likely mocked than praised me. The only vestigial evidence of my achievement was the pain in my body that I’d still be feeling a week later.
I paused there indeterminately, allowing the eddies to turn me as they would. Extreme exhaustion can do that––cause you to care less about time and where you’re going. Time didn’t matter to me then, in part because I knew the journey back would be much faster and easier than the trip down.
When I finally pointed the nose of my board toward home, I was almost too shaky to stand, but I did it anyway. I turned my body into a sail of muscle and bone and cruised across the water, the Wind now fuel rather than foe. It was exhilarating––the closest I’ll ever get to surfing.
So which part of the experience was Somewhere? Was it watching the hawk fish in the ink-colored water? Was it my battle with the Wind? My brief imitation of a surfer? Perhaps Somewhere is now––me telling the story to you. It can’t be any of these things, of course, because I still want more. Something inside me thinks there’s a better Somewhere out there.
There’s a saying among mystics: “Given a choice between the journey and the destination, the heart will choose the journey every time.” There is a part of us that’s convinced our destination is always out there, but the fact remains, no matter how far ‘out there’ we get, we invariably look around and say to ourselves, “This is it? It can’t be. My destination must be out there still.”
I wonder if our problem with Somewhere stems from the fact that we as humans manage to ignore the impermanence of life. We long for security and certainty, but life doesn’t work that way. Our stories are written upon moving water. Focus on an image reflected upon the surface; call that image Somewhere, call it Home, and your disappointment is guaranteed, for the surface of the water is ever moving, always changing. Your life is not just a single part of the lake. You are the lake entire.
I know what many of you are thinking. I know because I’ve been thinking it myself. You’re thinking: It’s because we long so desperately for Somewhere that we know it must exist, even if it only exists after death.
I hear you. And I’ve heard of such a place. I hope it’s true, especially now, with the world burning around us, I pray it’s true––that there’s another world we might escape to, once we’ve finished wrecking this one. But here’s a question––if you’re unable to find contentment in this world, what makes you think you’ll be capable of finding it in the next?
If I cannot locate Heaven when––I’m stuck in traffic, or I’m cranky and my body hurts from sleeping in a bad position all night, or I’m pissed off over something the government is doing, or my children are upset because they can’t go to school, or I’m worried about the unraveling of our society, and the ash from the Earth’s burning skin is floating through my windows, a prescient sign that things don’t appear to be going so well these days––if I can’t see Heaven even through all of this, I suppose I won’t find it anywhere.