PARTING SHOT FATHOMING THE MYSTERY OF WATER

Just as some of us get fewer colds and headaches than others, I seem to get fewer beliefs. I’ve been immune since birth to astrology (yes, a typical skep-tical Virgo). The passing epidemics of numerology, astral projection, and birth-order analysis didn’t faze me. Those dangerous foreign viruses-Bigfoot, Nes-sie-never cost me a day of work.

Dallas, because of November 22, 1963, is a prime spawning ground for the Conspiracy Bug, but I’ve dodged it, too. 1 did have a spell of McGovernitis in the early Seventies-there was a lot of that going around campus-and I caught a nasty case of Reagan Syndrome in the fall of 1980; it took me a year or so to trickle back to normal.

This hardy constitution has steeled me against all sorts of pernicious infections. But I’ve been worrying lately that I’m coming down with one of the worst credo-maladies known to mankind. I’m talking about the Big R. Yep. Reincarnation.

This whole crazy thing started a couple of years ago when some nice friends with nice salaries bought a beautiful sailboat big enough to sleep four, and began inviting us to sail. From the moment I set foot on board, I had a delicious feeling that went far beyond mere enjoyment or amusement: I felt like I had come home. Everything about the experience-the hypnotic swaying of the docks, the sweetly fecund rotting of the harbor, the glint of the sunset low on the water-seemed familiar, for no reason I could determine.

The feeling grows with each trip. Taking my turn at the wheel, I feel like I’m remembering, not learning, the thrilling interplay of wind, water, and boat. I make mistakes (maybe I wasn’t that good last time around), but it’s all in the context of something known before. It’s as if I might blink into the glare a few times and wake up working the nets on a tuna boat somewhere off the Florida Keys.

Of course I can think of all kinds of hard-edged, rational, objective reasons why reincarnation just can’t be true. My mysterious feeling won’t pass muster in a courtroom or laboratory. If pressed, I guess I’ll just fall back on the old fundamentalists’ logic: Nobody has yet proved I wasn’t steaming ’round the Cape of Good Hope in 1778. and since nobody has proved I wasn’t. I was.

WHETHER OR NOT THIS SENSE OF DEJA VU means anything at all, it’s long been known that spending time around any large body of water can induce thoughts on matters beyond the mundane. Herman Melville, opening Moby Dick, muses on the ancient connection between water and meditation:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet… then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can, ” So says Ishmael, who seeks salvation on the water the way a modern American looks for it in jogging, therapy groups, or Valium.

Ishmael walks through Manhattan, of all places, and finds everywhere people staring out to sea, people who spend their days “tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. ” but who feel the mystical pull of the ocean as he does.

And not just the ocean. Water, water, anywhere. “Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. “

Well, that might not be too strong a word. One of the most dazzling sights I’ve seen came some 20 miles off the coast of South Africa, watching in awe as a swollen orange sun melted into the horizon. A cool wind that might have begun in Antarctica snapped at our sails. Magic.



THERE WERE NO COOL WINDS ON A RE-cent weekend when we joined thousands of our fellow Texans in the summer ritual of camping out at the lake. The purpose was a reunion with some college camping buddies of my wife’s at the hallowed old campsite, billed on the invitation as “semi-secluded. “

Well, define “semi. ” Surely it must have been secluded from someone, perhaps a few people from Hurst or Longview who couldn’t make it that day. But everyone else was there with boats and skis and dogs and kids and throbbing boom boxes and every imaginable type of fiendishly loud water toy, including a new mode of jet ski that sounds for all the world like somebody just strapped an outboard on a giant weed eater and let fly. When we arrived, the chaos was such that one usually good-hearted woman, no doubt suffering from heat and rapid fluid replacement, was heard muttering about “white trash on parade. ” To make things worse, five or six strapping dudes and their dudettes were camped disgustingly close. They rode their weed eaters until dark and then proceeded to party down into the night. Somehow they even fell asleep with the radio blasting out foreign rock ’n’ roll (i. e., no Beatles, no Eagles, no Doobie Brothers). We started to issue threats-or at least requests-then thought better of it because they were younger and needed their sleep.

The ground was hard and the insects hungry. The weed eaters awakened us just after dawn, and all the ingredients for a bad time were mixed and ready. But even the whining machines couldn’t take the magic from the water. Do you know that it is possible to spend most of a day looking at a lake? Doing nothing, making no money, making no plans to make money, just staring? For some reason the time slows down-as if water also holds the key to immortality, which might start with freeing ourselves from the domination of the clocks. On the water you live through what seem like vast stretches of time, then find out that only a few hours have passed. But what are the things we call hours? Is everyone’s hour the same everywhere?

The next night, watching the moon recreate itself in the water, the group turned meditative. Melville would have understood. Someone asked what would be the perfect afterlife, and the answers came from around the circle. At first I couldn’t do much with it. A life of stasis? No change, ever, no moment becoming another moment? Then it hit me that with the lake nearby, and the moon, there might be other ways of looking at the question. Lots of ways.

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