Some kids grew up with brothers and sisters, or with dogs and farms and football teams, but I grew up with the ocean. I love mountains, and snow, and the great flat western plains of central Australia, where you can drive for three hours without passing another vehicle, or making so much as a single turn on a road leading straight towards the horizon; but these were never part of my childhood. We lived on a narrow isthmus that separates the northern arm of the largest deepwater harbour in the world from the southern reaches of the world’s largest ocean, and the sea in all her sensuality was always insatiably near, and never resting.
Summers meant hot west winds, and crusted salt drying on sunburnt shoulders; winters meant southerlies piercing the neoprene skin of our wetsuits as they carried swells onto deserted beaches.
Our “sport” was sailing; in those days nobody imagined that surfing would one day become a competitive activity. It was a meditation, and as important as dreaming, although often infinitely more frightening. We didn’t ride in waves crashing onto rocks, sand and sea-urchins (whose spines could take weeks to extract from a misplaced foot, or – if you were very unlucky and had been “eaten” by the wave - your face) to become world champions (although one of us subsequently did), nor because we thirsted after the rush of an “extreme sport”: the term wasn’t invented yet. We surfed because that’s what you did when you weren’t sailing, or swimming, or spear-fishing. Because the waves were there, and riding them was as necessary as breathing, probably more so given our youth.
It’s been a long time since I paddled a board through shore-break, or around the outside of Bower Reef. Maybe that’s because I’m no longer fit enough, and not really because only the very young have the hours needed to chase waves.
And we were young then, very young, although at the time we thought otherwise. Don’t we all?
This morning I had the honour of speaking with one of the most honourable men I’ve ever met: somebody who left me feeling like I’d become a better person by simply spending time in his presence. This is funny, because he was only recently paroled from prison, where he came to have a similar effect on many of his fellow inmates. As we talked I realised how glibly we speak about forgiveness, and how rarely we stop and allow ourselves to understand what it means. And how much more we can become if we can but dare to live and believe in the forgiveness of which Christ spoke…
Like me, this man has also long loved the ocean, and I know how hard the years spent away from her have been for him. But those years have been served now: he is forgiven; and so are we.
A week back MadPriest had a Waterboys song on his Midnight Jukebox: Church Not Made With Hands. Since then I’ve been devouring everything by Mike Scott and the Waterboys I can find, so this is for you MP: “thanks”. And also for the man whom I was so privileged to meet today. He’ll appreciate the words more than most of us: it’s from the soundtrack to Riding Giants.
Which sort of says it all.