Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Edge of Infinity

A friend visiting for the first time, this summer, stared out my dining room windows. “What’s it like,” she said, “living at the edge of infinity?”

This friend is a poet. She writes of snow “winging white,” of “a (A) listening like the forest’s own,” of the “willingness of pure air.” And for a moment I was stunned. I hadn’t thought of this place where I lived in that way, but she was correct: this is the edge of infinity, and so she has sent me on a quest, a poet’s kind of meditation: What is it like living at the edge of infinity?

It was a day in late August, when I came outside to sit on a bench at the edge of the sea. Due east was Boone Light, marking a pile of rocks that jut up into the Atlantic, to the north, Nubble light, guarding York Harbor, to the south, towards Portsmouth, White Light on White Island, the southern most island of the Isles of Shoals, that on a clear day, rise like the backs of a pod of whales. The sea was relatively calm, the air soft as summer lingered. Usually, at this time of year, the chill of autumn, has insinuated itself into summer, and I wondered if because the season came late this year, this softness would linger beyond the weekend marking Labor Day.

Two days earlier, Hurricane Bill, headed north for Nova Scotia and roiled the ocean. My granddaughter and I watched from a living room window as swells soared, then crashed on a promontory, locals called Pollack Rock and the family called Nana’s Rock, because that’s the place where we all knelt to lower my mother’s ashes into the sea. Five years, later, we knelt at the same spot with my father’s ashes. However, the promontory has remained Nana’s Rock. On that day, as my granddaughter and I watched awe struck at the sea’s power, the swells rose twelve feet, before bursting and spreading foam, as if to level the promontory. I have learned, here, to never underestimate the sea’s power, the way it smoothes rocks or tosses them over the bank and onto the grass. Year after year, the bank erodes. And on that day that Hurricane Bill headed for Nova Scotia, the sea swept a father and his daughter into the caldron. The child died. The father lived. Infinity. That boundless place where life and death meet in letting go, or perhaps in prayer.

Today, the sea was gentle—like a sleeping puppy, the promontory like a plateau where cormorants sat, gathering as if in a colony, then spreading their wings. They’re strange birds, these cormorants, drying their wings in order to fly. Myth or truth? Both points of view abound. As I watched, one bird did not disperse the other. No pecking order, it seemed, as with the gulls, the younger speckled gulls, giving way to the older dominate birds. Soon, flocks of geese would fly overhead, heading south. Not the cormorants. They would be there, sitting on Nana’s Rock when the sky turned winter white, and the ocean darkened with cold.

Overhead, clouds stretched thin in a baby blue sky. There was a breeze. The tide was low, exposing the shoreline’s skeleton, rocks and kelp. The ocean sifted, its sound as rhythmic as a heart beat. I sat inside of constant motion; yet, I sat in stillness. And inside of me, a rare feeling of tranquility. I loved sitting, here, on this bench at the edge of the sea; yet, I had to remind myself to leave my kitchen, leave my study and come here. I am a driven person, restless, task oriented, a body in motion. I’m hard on my family, hard on myself. Not here. Here, something inside of me loosens and grows larger. With me or without me, this moment survives. This is forever. This is soul.

In Kabalistic teachings, the Absolute is Eyn-Sof. Eyn means No-thing. You might say, then, that God does not exist. Not so. Eyn does not mean nothing, for Eyn-Sof is not a thing, but something we cannot define. Eyn-Sof, the words combined, mean Boundless or Without End, so the Absolute or God is infinite, and infinity is boundless, unknowable, invisible, transcendent. And certain things in life are analogous, like this exquisite emptiness that fills my heart, here at the edge of this place, my friend called infinity.

[Quotations from Be That Empty by Alice B. Fogel,]