Hoping against hope

by Katherine Maas

I was raised far from the ocean and saw the sea for the first time when I was in my early 20s. At the time I was deeply troubled about the state of the world and my own life. The Vietnam War was raging and it felt as though humanity was poised on the edge of annihilation. I was struggling to complete my master’s thesis on a tight deadline, typing my first draft on a portable typewriter in the back of a VW camper while being driven through the Maritimes by my then-husband. I probably should have been working at home but didn’t want to deny him this long-planned holiday just because I behind in my schedule. So, he drove while I worked, sitting at the table in the back of the camper.

After a long day’s drive we pulled into a campground near dusk. I was deeply immersed in writing and somewhat resented the need to tear myself away from the typewriter. But my husband kept insisting that I come out and take a look at the surroundings. I thought “ I’ll humor him for a moment and then he’ll leave me alone so I can get back to work”. We were parked close to the shore, a pebble beach that sloped downward steeply, causing the waves to break suddenly as they reached the shore, rattling the pebbles as each small swell reached the shore.

Stepping out onto the beach, I was overcome by the beauty: the sound of the pebbles, the regular rhythm of the waves, the extraordinary golden quality of the light upon the blue ocean. As I watched and listened to the beauty of nature, my own troubles slipped away. I sat down and watched the waves until past dark. I remember feeling my own insignificance in the face of great nature. How unimportant were my little troubles! Long after humans had ceased to walk the earth, this shore would be here, these waves would be here, my sisters and brothers the sea creatures would survive even if we humans were foolish enough to destroy ourselves. And this knowledge was deeply comforting to me.

On many occasions since I have had the opportunity to go to the sea and experience the peace and comfort of knowing how insignificant we human beings are in the scheme of things. I always found this renewing; it enabled me to return to my daily grind refreshed and re-energized.

But I must confess, as the years have passed, and I have become aware of the immense damage we humans have inflicted on the ocean, I often feel great sadness as I sit beside the sea. Sometimes I can actually see the effects of what we have done: fewer plants and animals on the strand, sometimes patches of oil. But even when these things are not visible, I know what havoc has been wrought below the surface and I grieve the loss of the beauty and diversity that used to give me such hope. I fear there will be nothing left but jellyfish before we have finished. I try to hold onto the belief that no matter what we foolish humans do there will be something left and I try to comfort myself with that.

But I wonder. I do wonder.

Something inside me has reached to the place
Where the world is breathing.


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