Watching my youngest children at the sea is more interesting than watching the sea itself.
Our family ocean excursions always begin with my boundaries: it’s cold so don’t get wet, and certainly don’t swim; don’t trek a sandstorm into the car and house; and don’t – do not – collect any more shells to decorate our house, furniture, yard, porch, shelves.
I bring rules. They bring the most innocent anarchy. They swim with their clothes and get soaked. The car looks like a convertible that drove through a Saharan storm. I can feel the sand on our house floor for days. Shell skeletons surround our home – and I sometimes find desiccated marine creatures in the most unexpected places or, worse, smell them from afar.
We each have our rituals. My elder daughters meander. I walk the shore for exercise. My wife enjoys the ocean air. My little ones disembark and plant their flags of title on the entire shore with exultant shrieks, as though explorers from a dry world of only sand, cacti and shrub.
It’s an enviable sea dementia. For a brief time, they claim the entire sea, horizon to horizon, with all their little beings.
They have no need for mere castles; they build architectural feats that defy description. They create communities and mini-worlds in sand and surf. They build canals, moats, waterways and irrigate the sea itself.
They run circles round the sea until one of them falls down dizzy. They splash, wade, tip-toe. They spray water, scoop it up, channel it, bury it, flick it. They sit in the ocean, fall in, jump in, dive in. They play with foam, sometimes as friend, sometimes as foe. They hop and skip over waves, in moods that change with the tide, in moods that change with the moon. For hours. And if we let them – forever.
They scour the shore with the keenest curiosity. For shells. All shells. Any shells. Never mind the model or the make. Never mind that they have that typology – many of them, in sock drawers, shelves, under the bed – because this one is different. Unique, special, one-of-a-kind, must be treasured. To turn back such an offering from a generous sea is heartlessness itself. And, add insult to injury, their parents are duty-bound to keep them for little fingers can only gather them up in threes or fours.
If the sea wasn’t enough, there are its surrogate children – shallow rock pools, with their own endless universes of creatures and subtle collectibles. They clamber up, starfish-struck, over, between rocks, shoeless, absorbed.
They travel through the sea faster than the speed of light, to its furthermost cosmos and distant worlds, while the rest of us suffer the tedium of walking, running, picnicking, partying, sunbathing, lounging or chasing or hitting balls of various sizes.
My elder daughters are too sober for all this madness – as perhaps they should be. But I wonder whether their experience of the sea and its Divinely-inspired charm is waning, soon to be wanting, like mine.
The sea always seems never-ending. It almost stretches back into time itself, spans East and West with equal ease and its secrets are only known by One. Here they are – my young children, still learning phonetics, conversing like native speakers and reveling in its riches and sufficiency. And here I am – me, with a post-secondary education who can’t comprehend the first syllables of this rapturous communication.
My children have come to be filled. They haven’t sequestered the sea to their wants and wishes. Theirs is a true communion of two fitrahs. The sea has confided in them secrets from the Divine, secrets that I’m a stranger to, but secrets that I know would set me free.
Our teachers warn us to come to them with cups that are full.
Help me hear just one whisper that falls upon the ears of their heart, O Lord of the sea, Yā Wāsi‘ – O All-Expansive, Never-Ending.