Tropical Storm Danny made himself known in the middle of the night, with wind moaning through the cottage windows and needles of rain tapping the glass. We woke up to foamy chaos at high tide. Our bedroom here has a window seat looking out at the next cottage and the ocean. It’s a perfect spot for coffee and a Kindle, as captured in the above photo, taken by my wife.
If you’ve got headphones, you’ll be able to hear the sounds of the storm in this AudioBoo post from my iPhone:
I love how this storm puts a punctuation mark at the end of our month in Ocean Park. Most of August has been sunny and clear. Each morning the beach has sprouted a colorful band of umbrellas, chairs, and windbreaks. Not today. The view out the front windows right now shows no sign of humanity–only waves breaking into whiteness from a field of gray extending to the vague horizon, where fog and sea play tricks with sight. Just yesterday when I walked to the Old Orchard Beach pier at low tide, the sea flapped little wavelets like a big lake. And now look at it.
I’m always surprised by how our annual month-long stay at Ocean Park settles and reboots me. Sleeping, waking, working, and resting this close to the sea exerts a subtle pull on my mind and soul. There is an arc of change that takes a month to fulfill. For me, Ocean Park also represents a much longer rhythm of time, extending back generations to my father’s mother’s father, a lawyer from Lewiston who bought the place next door for his wife. I will turn 59 tomorrow. It’s easy to feel the years here, because I’ve been all the ages that I see scampering or strolling along this beach. I hope one day to join the very old ones still making their way to the sand, strolling hand and hand, their white hair mussed by the wind.
The passage of time is what has struck me most about the saturation TV coverage of Senator Ted Kennedy’s life and death. He was the only brother who lived long enough to comb gray hair. David Gergen last night said Teddy knew his limitations and worked hard to overcome them in a long tale of redemption. I find it painful to watch Ted in his callow, irresponsible years, struggling to meet expectations of a family and a world that must have seemed simply impossible. The oft-replayed 1979 interview with Roger Mudd did much to doom Kennedy’s presidential bid even before it was announced. The reason, in large part, was that it took four long seconds for Ted to find any words at all to answer Mudd’s simple question, “Why do you want to be President?” Even when he found the words, they formed no more than a jumble of unconvincing platitudes. It’s not difficult for me to imagine the memories of horror and loss involving his two brothers that might have flashed across his mind during those four long seconds, leading to a feeble, “Well, I….”
But in the fullness of time, Kennedy found his voice and his mission as a U.S. Senator now credited with having had more impact on history than either of his two famous brothers. Along the way, he filled in for Jack and Bobby as head of the family. I was touched last night by Caroline’s story of how Uncle Ted took all the kids on history trips, to teach them about the country and spend time together.
When I was younger, maybe the age when Teddy stumbled in the CBS interview, I couldn’t always give convincing answers to myself or anyone else about what I wanted, or why. As I prepare on a stormy morning to step into my sixties, I want more than anything to continue settling into my life’s responsibilities fully and naturally.
Last night Ted’s college classmate, John Culver, told a long, poignant, hilarious story about being dragooned into service aboard Kennedy’s sailboat for a regatta off Nantucket. Having grown up in Iowa with zero experience with boats, Culver expressed concern, especially because of forecasts of storm warnings. Ted’s refrain to every protest was, “There’s nothing to it!” Those words strike me as good guidance in this business of settling into the full potential of one’s life. You look around at what needs to be done each day, and you do it. Years pass. There’s nothing to it.