The Sublime

December 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m on the last night of my brief week vacation with my parents and cousin at the beach, sneaking a moment alone to calm my mind, go through the car and luggage mentally to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind, and just settle into the knowledge that tomorrow I will be back at home in my own bed 700 miles away and alone.

I had a breakdown the other night. It should have been expected given the stress and shock of a full house–when I’m used to being alone–plus the added stress of two days of travel and the unexpected attendance of my grandparents. Probably should have been expected anyway, with or without the stress of the vacation, since I was due for a crying fest. I get them every couple of weeks. I think it lasted a lot longer since my mother and cousin wouldn’t let me be alone, meaning I had to talk about depression, treatment, etc. while feeling overwhelmed with embarrassment, guilt, and shame. It would have passed so much more quickly had I been alone. But people care. They have every right to and apparently nothing I say or do has much effect on that. So I went to bed with a terrible headache, severe nausea, and the knowledge that in the morning I would feel awkward about my complete inability to control my emotions. Mental illness sucks.

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I love the beach for a lot of reasons. I like laying out, feeling warm and sleepy as my skin soaks up UV filtered through SPF 50. I read the books that inspired the True Blood television series which are just the right balance of thriller, romance, and comedy with just a dash of horror and gore. It’s entertaining fluff and the beach is almost the only time I let myself read it. I like lying around all day and not feeling like I’m being unproductive — after all, I am tanning and reading and relaxing. Being on the beach seems way more respectable than lying in bed all day.

But I love the ocean too. Especially at night or early in the morning when the fog makes the ocean seem like it ends a mere 20 yards off the shore, leaving you with a sense of compression, as if the earth were in actuality a very small place (a la Truman Show).

But the ocean at night during clear skies is where I get my real kicks. When you stand on the cool sand, hearing the deafening crash of the ocean waves and nothing else. You look at this massive body of water that seems to fall from the sky, a black velvet undefinable heaven glittering with the most stars I’ve ever seen. Ocean and sky have no end to themselves, blending together seamlessly and seeming at once nothing and everything, far out of reach and immediate, crushing in on you.

It’s like standing at the beginning of the universe, looking into its completely unknowable face that reminds you how you are simultaneously everything in the universe and absolutely nothing but a tiny speck of insignificant atoms.

I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. — C. S. Lewis

It makes me wonder about human beings and human nature. What crazy bastard stood at the edge of that seeming infinity of unknowable yet palpable power and kinetic energy and said “I want to sail into that, just to see what I can find.” No wonder humans thought the earth was flat — just stand on the beach at nighttime and you can fully understand why they would think that was the edge of the planet, the boundary with the rest of space, with emptiness.

No wonder ancient peoples looked at the churning waters that seem to be one and the same as the sky and thought that that was what creation sprang from, what humans and light and earth and animals emerged from. Looking at the ocean at night is like looking into the mind of a god, the heart of the universe, the energy and chaos of creation.

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The first time I saw the ocean at night, the first time I really saw it, was my freshman year of college. A very drunken walk with two of my friends ended with a frolic in the shallow waters of Hilton Head Island under the bright light of the moon.

I started sobbing hysterically, of course.

They assumed it was just because I was drunk, I think, but the truth is that it moved me, deeply, stirring something inside my heart that I still can’t really put my finger on, can’t properly identify or categorize.

This is, of course, my own feeling of the sublime, of feeling the unknowable, feeling in an intimate and primal way the overwhelming nature of the universe, my own humanity that is at once everything and nothing in the world.

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No man is an island. 

This phrase runs so often through my head these days.

No man is an island.

I can’t do this alone. I won’t make it alone. Yet I cope so much better on my own. I feel so much better breaking down alone. No shame. No embarrassment. No awkwardness when I’ve regained control. No one has to know.

No man is an island.

Alone on the ghostly white sand at night, with the soft glow of suburbia safely behind me and only the crashing waves, inky black, spilling from a star-splattered sky spreading out into infinity before me, do I feel truly myself in such a trapped and freeing way.

No man is an island.

Yet there I am, at the edge of the universe, feeling like the last person in the world, clinging to my remaining senses and sense of humanness.

It makes you wonder what kind of bravery explorers must have felt, looking at that force, that energy, that Ultimate, and saying “I will conquer thee. I will know your depths, I will measure your dimensions.”

Is it bravery? Or foolishness? Is it courage or hubris? I can’t know that answer, I only feel a primal excitement and fear when gazing at the source of creation.

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