BE: WALTER LIVINGSTON SEAGULL – An Epiphany

The lesson becomes this. You learn by living. And you hope you’re allowed to apply all of these lessons before your living ends.

The nest is vacated as of late, not quite empty but that’s just semantics. The girls have ostensibly evacuated, leaving Janice (my wife) and me to “fend for ourselves”. We do OK. I cook. She cleans. I repair and remodel. She washes and gardens. I nocturnally smash my head into furniture; she resumes a battle against her dreadful afflictions. But, we do OK.

The battles used to be shared. We were mutual combatants in a strained union, dancing precariously on the precipice of a bottomless free-fall. Somehow, the feet always seemed to avoid that finality. You come to be a student of your own mistakes, taking what you can salvage and leaving the unnecessary flotsam for the plankton. The fates have been tickled and in the thick of it, remains our sanity. So we chose to dance; to cling to a life for the prescribed better or worse and try to nurse this wounded beast back to health (or some semblance thereof!)

We had gotten into the habit of letting life slip by. But, our new discoveries dictate that if you do that long enough, you died without living (learning the lessons). That needed to be remedied. After all, I repair and remodel, so fixing covers it.

“Let’s take a drive” I suggested, not expecting the response I received.

“You know, I’d like that.” She said with as much joy as I’ve heard from Janice in a long while.

So, I packed a picnic basket and took the long drive along the Lake Erie shore. We shared a place, a beach from our respective youths that was as far removed in years as the difference in our ages. Not an outrageous endeavor by any means, but something we just didn’t do anymore since the girls were younger. I believe I needed this as much as she did. Janice had earned this, as she did every prize her heart held dear. It was something I had owed to her that in some small way covered an installment of an overdue bill.

Late afternoon when we arrived, finding an open area with tables and a grill, and an unimpeded view of the slightly choppy surf. She settled into her lawn chair and I performed my function as the hunter/gatherer/fire starter. My wife and I dined, amidst a warm lake breeze, 60’s classic rock on the iPod and a conversation that was twenty-seven years in development. We cleared the table  and headed for the sand.

Down the pathway it became apparent that the guards were no longer on duty for not many people remained on the beach. Also rather obvious was the multitude of seagulls that carpeted the shoreline. It was their meeting place; a sanctuary. We set off to the clearing and left the birds to their Sunday service. Janice spread the blanket; she and I settled onto the sand and watched the waves.

Did you ever listen to the crash of waves? I don’t mean have you ever heard the sound of waves. Did you ever LISTEN? The sound is very different that the perpetual crash against the battered shore. The hiss fades in and out, and at its peak, it is a raucous roar. It is as if the roll of wave feels uncomfortable to insinuate itself on the placidity of a sun-drenched day, but in its own exuberance, it explodes to share its joy.

The sun continues a retreat toward the horizon and the color of the clouds is of a spectrum of new and vibrant hues. I choose to wander with my camera (promising not to shoot photos of my wife in her state). I focused on the gulls and walked a line directly through their assembly. The din was voluminous, and the every which way scattering of birds filled multiple frames. And I caught a solitary bird in flight with the settling sun as its backdrop.

“Nice shot, Jonathan!” I said inwardly suddenly thinking of Jonathan Livingston Seagull from Richard Bach’s novella of the same name.

At this moment life made sense to me. This moment made sense to me.

~*~

If you do not remember or have not heard of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, here is a brief synopsis:

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a seagull learning about life and flight, and self-perfection.

Young Jonathan Livingston is frustrated with the meaningless materialism and conformity as well as the limitations of the seagull life. He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars. Eventually, his lack of conformity to the limited seagull life leads him into conflict with his flock, and they turn their backs on him, casting him out of their society and exiling him. Jonathan is not swayed and continues his efforts to reach higher and higher flight goals, finding he is often successful but eventually can not fly any higher.

Jonathan transcends into a new society where all the gulls enjoy flying. He is only capable of this after practicing hard alone for a long while. In this other society, real respect emerges as a contrast of the coercive force that was keeping his former flock together. The learning process takes on almost sacred levels, suggesting that this may be the true relation between humans and God with each believing that humans and God, regardless of the all immense difference, are sharing something of great importance that can bind them together. Jonathan understands that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull.” He realizes he has the freedom to be himself, his true self, here and now and nothing can stand in his way.

The last words of Jonathan’s teacher resonates with him. “Keep working on love.” Jonathan understands that the spirit is earth-bound without the ability to forgive. Jonathan returns to his former flock to share his newly discovered ideals and the recent tremendous experiences. The ability to forgive seems to be a prerequisite to the “passing condition.” The truth lies in this lesson: love, deserved respect, and forgiveness all seem to be equally important to the freedom from the conformity of the rules just because they are commonly accepted.

~*~

Love. Deserved respect. Forgiveness. These make a life well lived. I had lost sight of the importance of the life I had been given. I tried to strive for “poetic perfection”, bucking the system; thinking myself above the “flock”. I went on this journey to find a “higher plane”, without realizing “I had already arrived”. The time wasted trying to honor and glorify my abilities, skewed my sense of priority; it almost destroyed me.

I became what I am, a small grain of sand on a vast lake shore; a speck in the early evening sky. And a song from the soundtrack of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Neil Diamond played in my head. On a search for forgotten lyrics, I was humbled and caught by surprise:

BE

Written by: Neil Diamond

Lost
On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the poet’s eye
You may find him
If you may find him

There
On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
Through an open door
You may know him
If you may

Be
As a page that aches for words
Which speak on a theme that’s timeless
And the one God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your day

And we dance
To a whispered voice
Overheard by the soul
Undertook by the heart
And you may know it
If you may know it

While the sand
Would become the stone
Which begat the spark
Turned to living bone
Holy, Holy
Sanctus, sanctus

Be
As a page that aches for words
Which speak on a theme that is timeless
And the one God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your day

We had a perfect day that God had made for us, my wife and I. We found something we had lost or forgotten a while back: love, respect and forgiveness. And in the tenderness of a mid-summer’s sunset, we made love in a sense – fully clothed, watching the sky transition into new beauty, but totally in the embrace of this moment. The moment I fell in love with my wife all over again!

And the lesson becomes this. You learn by living. And you hope you’re allowed to apply all of these lessons before your living ends. Whatever happens in this life, this moment belongs to us.

© All photographs by Walter J. Wojtanik

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “BE: WALTER LIVINGSTON SEAGULL – An Epiphany

  1. I know sometimes you believe I overuse “wow.” Perhaps I do, though I feel it each and every time. Yet, sometimes my heart leaps and my lips whisper “wow,” and it is an altogether different sensation. Upon reading this, Walt, my heart leaped and my lips whispered “wow.”

    The Jonathan Livingston Seagull connection so beautifully enlightens. You refer to this as an epiphany, and rightfully so. It’s all here, and it’s all come full-circle. It’s where it all belongs … lakeside – with waves, gulls, breeze, sand, scents, sounds, music, memories, your camera, your words, your wife, your God – your revelation.

    Heart peace, indeed. I wish you could see the smile in my eyes.

    Marie

  2. Thanks Marie. It was a different vibe altogether. The JLS story intrigues me greatly. I read it when we were kids. Never saw the movie and heard snippets of the album. But if you read the synopsis objectively, who does Jonathan sound like? But the song lyric mentioning “a poet’s eye” was like a personal “wow”. I have to revisit this whole Jonathan Livingston Seagull phenomenon.

  3. Beautiful, Walt! I enjoyed reading “Jonathan” years ago. Still love the message — in spite of my agnostic leanings. An epiphany indeed. Lovely!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s