The blessing came in an unconscious physical respect for the sea that began to inform everything I did around the boats, from the merest tying of a knot to the safety of every individual and group in my care.
The blessing was also in sheer survival. A few feet here, a few feet there, and I would have been over that cliff, from whence there was no return. A boat could not have even approached to pick up my body. I had been given the sight of my own end and had returned to carry the revelation into the rest of my existence. I was not a discrete sports star in the firmament of my own adulation. I belonged to a very powerful world, and everything had its own life equal to my own. Still, in an ironic way, I felt sure that I had come to all this myself, under my own luck and power.
As the waves recede in my memory, I come, three years later, to the armchair in Yorkshire and my mother sipping whiskey. I was home for only a short stay, and we were talking about my travels and the amount of time I spent away from her. In inimitable Irish fashion, my mother was telling me how much she missed me and how she said a prayer for my safety every night. I nodded in good sonlike fashion but was ready to move on to other more adult things, appropriate to a grown man talking to his mother. But before I could encourage the conversation onto other ground, she began to tell me about a vivid dream that had woken her up during my time in the Galápagos.
Apparently, in the dream I had been standing on a black cliff with one other person, next to a fountain of water. A huge, frightening wave bore down on us in the dream. The blowhole on Hood Island. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as she spoke, describing in clear detail from her dream the exact circumstance of my near drowning. I had never so much as breathed a word of the incident, knowing how much she worried about me, nor had I told my father or either of my sisters. "You were standing on the cliff edge next to the strange fountain when a big wave came over the top and swept you away. You came floating back in all the turmoil but then another, bigger wave came and you were being taken out to sea. I felt the blackness of the water waiting for you. In the dream, I leaned down from above and took hold of you by the back of the neck. I lifted you out and put you safely back on the cliff. When I woke, I felt so happy that I had been able to save you."
I looked at my mother with absolute amazement. I was shocked into silence to hear such a precise description of something so private to me, a clear description of the frightening trauma I had been trying, I realized, to forget. The sound of the waves seemed to surround me as she spoke, the sea spray thundering amidst the bird cries. I looked at her as if I had seen a ghost, which I had. It was my self-image vanishing. I told my mother the other side of the story. We stared into our glasses; we looked at each other.
Then I found myself amidst other waves, waves of laughter at the absurdity of it all. They began to ripple to the surface, and my mother began to laugh, too. "Bloody marvelous, isn't it?" I said. "Here I am adventuring around the world like some invulnerable version of Indiana Jones, lord of all I survey, and all the time it is my mother coming in like the cavalry at the end and saving me from the jaws of destruction." We raised the glasses together, hooting at the image. But as the laughter subsided, I told myself in no uncertain terms, David, whatever it is you think you are, give it up. There are powers at play in the world about which you know very little. Like, for instance, this little woman sitting in front of you who sponsored your exclusive membership in this hard-to-obtain world and for all you know still pays a hefty part of your annual dues.
There was a feeling in the room of time stopping dead still. I'm not interested in the psychic glamour of it all, nor the intuitive reach of my mother, which I had experienced many times before. Yes, I was perfectly prepared to believe that the intercession was real. That without her watchful, loving presence I would have been swept away. But irrespective of the far-fetched psychic reality of it all, something else had happened inside me. I stopped trying to do it all myself. I was like everything else in this life. I didn't need to have absolute total control over my destiny. I couldn't have it anyway.
I was given a sense of the intimate way everything is a brother and sister to everything else. Everything we see as private is somehow already out in the world. The singularity of existence is only half the story; all our singularities are in the conscious and unconscious conversation with everything else. The fierce ecologies of belonging I had witnessed in the Galápagos extended like a long wave form passing right through my life. Sitting in front of the fire of a damp Yorkshire evening, I felt as if these waves of revelation and belonging had at last come to claim me, like the Pacific breakers had once tried.
Whatever powers we have in the world, in our work, in our leadership, in our imaginations, they are in the gift of a much larger world than one we have made for ourselves. We are dependent in all our lives on a deeper, wider creation which we must join, a creation waiting to transform us in that joining by the merest touch.
Excerpted from Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte, with permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. Copyright © 2001 by David Whyte.
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