It was almost exactly two weeks ago that I stood on the shore of Tayabas Bay at the beach at Laiya, San Juan, Batangas (on the island of Luzon in the Philippines – only about three hours from metro Manila) and watched the sun rise. Afterward, when I had spent possibly too much time taking pictures and not enough simply being present, I went back to our small open cabana on the beach, pulled aside the mosquito netting, and settled back down to sleep beside one of my best friends for a few more hours.
There is so much privilege and good fortune wrapped up in that paragraph, it feels surreal that it is entirely true.
Standing on beaches – even early enough to watch the sunrise!- is a thing I’ve been blessed to do many times since I was small. And it struck me those few weeks ago, when I finally got to do it again after years without a beach visit, how calmly similar shorelines are everywhere in the world. I don’t mean the external circumstances – whether it’s a resort or a wilderness or a damn mess after a storm or a carny nightmare – but the span of horizon, the feel of breeze, the sense of seeing again and again what can never be fully seen. There is more out there, the shoreline says. There is always more.
Now is the time I could talk about how travel shows you that “more,” gives you an outside perspective on your own life, introduces you to the possibilities of an inside perspective on another life entirely, rests you, challenges you, exhausts you, exhilarates you…
Or I could tell you about the time I stood on that same beach, later that same day almost two weeks ago, and cried.
The skies where we stayed were free of light pollution in a way I haven’t witnessed since my childhood. After dinner, to which I’d worn a pretty sundress and ridiculous platform shoes, we’d walked back to the cabana. I took off the ridiculous (pretty – comfortable – fun) shoes and walked down to the couple of plastic chairs set under an almost unrealistically photogenic tree by the shore. My friend joined me. After a few minutes of talking, and more minutes of silence, I said, “I’m going to go stand by the water to see the stars better.” The lanterns hung in the absurdly beautiful tree we sat under meant I could see only hundreds of stars.
Walking twenty feet away, down to where the water could lap at my now-bare feet on the coarse coral sand, the sky – the entire universe – opened.
If you have never stood in a place where you could see the band of the Milky Way overhead, where you could get a tiny glimpse of where we are in all this vastness, then my hope for you is that you get to experience that at some time in your life. If you have felt the “more” that the shoreline’s horizon promises and felt contented, then turning your eyes to the Milky Way, to the concrete reality of the rest of our galaxy, may agitate you. There is more than the more we think we understand. “The known unknowns,” yeah? The way we age and think we have some handle on how much we don’t actually know?
The glowing band of our own neighborhood in the universe kicks that aside and says there’s more that you don’t know than you could ever imagine even if you could figure out a way to stand at the shore on one of the countless other worlds that exists and see THAT promise of THAT more and still not understand how much you don’t know.
How much I don’t know.
A week after I stood on that beach I turned 45. I spent part of that birthday on another shore, on the island of Corregidor, where too many people died too young, too horribly, to imagine. More that I don’t know.
My prayer for this year: May I learn more than I even know how to expect. May I be prepared to feel how very much I do not know. May my feet touch sand again. May I look up. To steal true beauty from the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, may God break my heart again and again until it stays open.
On that shore almost two weeks ago, I looked up, and it broke my heart open. I cried, and then I stopped, and then I walked back up and invited my friend to join me, and he did.
May it ever be for us all.