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The Turn of the Tide: Part II

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | September 24, 2011

"We need quiet time to examine our lives openly and honestly."
Susan Taylor

Last week I shared Part I of an essay by Arthur Gordon titled The Turn of the Tide. In response to a difficult season in Mr. Gordon's life, his doctor gave him four (4) "prescriptions." 

Because he loved the beach as a child, the doctor told him to go there alone and without any reading, writing, listening to the radio or talking to anyone he was to follow these four (4) prescriptions - one (1) every three (3) hours. 

The first prescription I shared last week: LISTEN CAREFULLY. After three (3) hours of listening carefully, Mr. Gordon unfolded the second "prescription" and continued with these words.
 

I sat there, half-amused and half-exasperated. Three words this time: TRY REACHING BACK. 

Back to what? To the past, obviously. But why, when all my worries concerned the present or the future? 

I left the car and started tramping along the dunes. The doctor had sent me to the beach because it was a place of happy memories. Maybe that was what I was supposed to reach for: the wealth of happiness that lay half-forgotten behind me. 

I found a sheltered place and lay down on the sun-warmed sand. When I tried to peer into the well of the past, the recollections that came to the surface were happy but not very clear. So I decided to experiment: to work on these vague impressions as a painter would, retouching the colors, strengthening the outlines. I would choose specific incidents and recapture as many details as possible. I would visualize people complete with dress and gestures. 

The tide was ebbing now, but there was still thunder in the surf. So I chose to go back across the years to the last fishing trip I made with my younger brother, who died in the Pacific during World War II. I found that if I closed my eyes and really tried I could see him with amazing vividness, even the humor and eagerness in his eyes that far-off morning. 

In fact, I could see it all: the ivory scimitar of beach where we were fishing, the eastern sky smeared with sunrise, the great rollers creaming in, stately and slow. I could feel the backwash swirl warm around my knees, see the sudden arc of my brother's rod as he struck a fish, hear his exultant yell. Piece by piece I rebuilt it, clear and unchanged under the transparent varnish of time. Then it was gone. 

I sat up slowly. TRY REACHING BACK. Happy people were usually assured, confident people. If, then, you deliberately reached back and touched happiness, might there not be released little flashes of power, tiny sources of strength? 

This second period of the day went more quickly. As the sun began its long slant down the sky, my mind ranged eagerly through the past, reliving some episodes, uncovering others that had been almost forgotten. For example, when I was around thirteen and my brother ten, Father had promised to take us to the circus. But at lunchtime there was a phone call; some urgent business required his attention downtown. We braced ourselves for disappointment. Then we heard him say, "No, I won't be down. It'll have to wait." 

When he came back to the table, Mother smiled. "The circus keeps coming back, you know." 

"I know," said Father. "But childhood doesn't." 

Across all the years I remembered this, and knew from the sudden glow of warmth that no kindness is ever really wasted, or ever completely lost. 

By three o'clock the tide was out; the sound of the waves was only a rhythmic whisper, like a giant breathing. I stayed in my sandy nest, feeling relaxed and content - and a little complacent. The doctor's prescriptions, I thought, were easy to take. 

But I was not prepared for the next one. 

Next week will reveal that one. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu