Those gulls are just going to stay there and let me walk right through them. Are they going to fly? No, no, there they go. They don’t sound like gulls. They sound more like children screeching. Marm, Marm! I can make that sound. I wonder if the sand beneath their feet is as cushy as it is under mine. I’m hungry. Go on, little guy, out over the water. Go on. Wow, that’s beautiful. I don’t think you can find that shade of color, that blue-green out there, anywhere else.
I looked back, still cascading in the depths of my thoughts, my very own, incoherent, ticking mind. Behind me, a mist rose up off Lake Michigan, chapping my lips and hitting me briskly. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention, and I loved it, soaking in every moment. I had grown up taking holiday on the white, sandy beaches of the Floridian panhandle, always coming away with sunburns and enjoying the saltwater afternoons with jellyfish and plenty of algae.
This was much different. The very backwardness of a wind-chilled beach spoke something poetic to me, and it was there in the moment that I was hit with the painstaking realization I had longed to understand.
You only love what’s poetic to you, don’t you? You capture it in words sometimes, but that’s meaningless. A book, meaningless. A poem, meaningless. All attempts to recapture the heart, meaningless. But the heart itself is rich with something unspeakable. Once it passes, it passes. No sense in holding on. This – something to those little sponge-like craters in the sand, a soft reminder of a recent sprinkle – this is something to love; this is poetry – at its finest. It wasn’t just the beauty of the world but the brokenness, too. I loved it all, but I only loved what I found poetic.
I looked back again and in the distance, a brown figure walked quietly along the beach, like the sand was moving in well-formed motions. Its stride was quiet, one careful step after another.
So eager, so eager to get away, to step into the unknown and embrace uncertainty with cautious hope. A career path, a job, and dream after dream carving directions that left the world behind. I wanted something different, some new change, but I didn’t know what it was exactly. I had practically broken out in a sprint to get away and in doing so, I trudged ahead of the very ones that had pushed me forward with love. I pushed back, too, but out of selfishness instead, leaving only my footprints behind for that very distant figure to hope they were mine.
I carved the path unsure of the future. The distant figure, equally, stepped forward with an uncertainty as great as mine. There were plenty of footprints to follow.
Just follow the ones that seem to lead nowhere, that seem off the beaten path. Can he keep up? What am I doing? There’s the risk of being stranded; there’s the risk of stranding others. But then, there’s always some kind of risk, I guess. I just… gotta keep walking, placing one foot in front of the other.
It was a normal pace for me. The distant figure kept a pace much slower and not by choice. Time had weathered the bones that trudged with a kind of peace about them. A few fences were in the way, a “no-trespassing” sign here, a “dune habitat” sign there. The sand gathered weeds about it along the small dunes I crossed, eager to reach the pier. Not everyone would be so willing to follow. Not everyone would walk to the end of the earth for you, no matter where you were going.
I bet from the end of the pier, you can get a great view of the city. Is that the Sears Tower? You can barely see the top of it over that fence. Where did Dad go? I guess he’s still walking this way. The water sounds louder. I’m hungry. Is that a concrete ledge? Just beyond that fence, let’s see. Just beyond….
Slowly and surely the cityscape appeared over a large concrete slab guarding the beach from the powerful might of Lake Michigan. The water was choppy in the Canadian wind, splashing over the concrete from time-to-time. Nearly every building of the city was crystal clear, the earlier mist lifting just enough for a picture-perfect view. Navy Pier stretched out onto the water, a kind of arm reaching out onto the Great Lake. The towers were unmistakable and climbed high into the afternoon sky, the first a visible break to the blue backdrop before a series of other buildings stretched on into the distance. There’s something about staring at a large cityscape that makes you feel as though it belongs to you and no one else.
The pier was ahead but I stopped and turned, noting that I had left the figure behind. The future was within reach but forgetting the past was unacceptable. So much was owed to it. In one direction, the city stared at me blankly, and the brown grains of sand blowing about behind me seemed almost daunting. I knew he was there, that solemn figure walking his slow walk but resolute to come along, or at least, watching from a distance with great pride. I sat down on a concrete slab and watched the clouds roll in slowly near the city. In the city so windy, they moved quickly, tearing into the blue.
He better be here soon. I want him to see this. This isn’t something you get to see everyday.
Staring at the cityscape, I felt the quiet presence standing behind me. There was nothing looming to it. If anything, it was comforting. So long, it seems, we run forward from our fathers, eager to be on our own, and yet, I couldn’t have been more pleased by the quiet presence that served as a reminder of something I would always have. No words were needed, but a few were spoken nevertheless.
“The clouds rolled in.”
“I see that… Son?”
“The sky is still blue above the clouds.”
“I know, Dad.”
“…doesn’t matter where you’re standing or who you’re standing with, there’s still blue sky up there.”
“I know, Dad.”
“Then look for it. Don’t stop looking for it.”
He sat beside me on the concrete slab, watching the water slap the beach behind us and stretch all the way to the city in front of us. When it was time to go, I took on a quiet stride I hadn’t taken before and walked alongside him with reverence.