A LONG KNOWLEDGE
“What we owe the future is not a new start, for we can only begin with what has happened. We owe the future the past, the long knowledge that is the potency of time to come.”
— Wendell Berry
The waves were small but stable and definitely rideable, coming in smooth sets. The water was clear and cold; the sun warm. I was trying to get the hang of a friend’s vintage Hap Jacobs longboard. I’m not much of a surfer, having come to it late in the game. Add to that the difficulty of staying in “surfing shape” while living in Arkansas and of trying to learn a heavy, older board, and even
this easy day was wearing me out. But there was no where else I would’ve been than out there with Omar and a small group of locals laughing and being rolled as flights of pelicans glided by. There are few things like it.
About an hour in, I found myself floating and watching the others, resting up for a few final attempts. I was crying. I don’t know where it came from, but I felt the familiar ache of longing for Olivia, wishing she had lived to surf these days with me. I longed for others who are no longer here, and for those who are here but suffer everyday and long for a rest and relief this world doesn’t offer. Now this may sound morbid, or even a bit deranged, but it wasn’t. I hadn’t lost the joy I was feeling in the waves.
In fact, I think the joy invited the longing ache in, opened the door for it.
In Berry’s quote above, he writes of a “long knowledge,” something I may have briefly experienced that morning in the surf. Knowing joy and suffering, satisfaction and longing, contentment and pain—existing together, complementing one another. I think it takes time to be okay with that. I think we have to give up pinning all our hopes on “clean slates” and “fresh starts” as the answer and, instead, accept our long and complex histories, welcoming our pain and loss along with the joy and gifts.
The moment out drifting on the board soon passed, and I paddled back to give it a few more tries. When I finally got enough of the feel to smoothly drop in on a decent wave and get a good ride, I could see the smile on Omar’s face from far away. We called it a morning soon after.
He later told me the history of the board. First shaped in the 60’s, it passed through numerous owners over the decades until it finally landed, busted up and leaking, with Omar. After a couple of years, Omar found someone he trusted to restore it.
That morning I got to ride it a few times.
Scars and all.