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Turn of the Tide: Part I

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | September 17, 2011

"I can hardly wait for tomorrow; it means a new life for me each and every day."
Stanley Kunitz

As part of a business meeting I recently attended, my friend Dr. George O. Wood read an extended essay title "The Turn of the Tide" by Arthur Gordon. But, because of its length, I will spread it out over three (3) parts. The follow is the first excerpt from his article, which begins as Arthur Gordon received some instructions from his doctor after a rather challenging time in his life. 

He told me to drive to the beach alone, arriving not later than nine o'clock. I could take some lunch, but I was not to read, write, listen to the radio, or talk to anyone. "In addition," he said, "I'll give you a prescription to be taken every three hours." 

He tore off four prescription blanks, wrote a few words on each, folded them, numbered them and handed them to me. "Take these at nine, twelve, three and six." 

"Are you serious?" 

He gave a short bark of a laugh. "You won't think I'm joking when you get my bill!" 

The next morning, with little faith, I drove to the beach. It was lonely, all right. A northeaster was blowing; the sea looked gray and angry. I sat in the car, the whole day stretching emptily before me. Then I took out the first of the folded strips of paper. On it was written: LISTEN CAREFULLY. 

I started at the two words. Why, I thought, the man must be mad. He had ruled out music and newscasts and human conversation. What else was there? 

I raised my head and I did listen. There were no sounds but the steady roar of the sea, the creaking cry of a gull, the drone of some aircraft high overhead. When I got out of the car, a gust of wind slammed the door with a sudden clap of sound. Am I supposed, I asked myself, to listen carefully to things like that? 

I climbed a dune and looked out over the deserted beach. Here the sea bellowed so loudly that all other sounds were lost. And yet, I thought suddenly, there must be sounds beneath sounds - the soft rasp of drifting sand, the tiny wind-whisperings in the dune grasses - if the listener got close enough to hear them. 

On an impulse I ducked down and, feeling faintly ridiculous, thrust my head into a clump of sea oats. Here I made a discovery: If you listen intently, there is a fractional moment in which everything seems to pause. In that instant of stillness, the racing thoughts halt. For a moment, when you truly listen for something outside yourself, you have to silence the clamorous voices within. The mind rests. 

I went back to the car and slid behind the wheel. LISTEN CAREFULLY. As I listened again to the deep growl of the sea, I found myself thinking about the immensity of it, the stupendous rhythms of it, the velvet trap it made for the moonlight, the white fanged fury of its storms. 

I thought of the lessons it had taught us as children. A certain amount of patience (you can't hurry the tides). A great deal of respect (the sea does not suffer fools gladly). An awareness of the vast and mysterious interdependence of things. Sitting there, I realized I was thinking of things bigger than myself - and there was relief in that. 

Even so, the morning passed slowly. The habit of hurling myself at a problem was so strong that I felt lost without it. I almost turned on the car radio to listen to music. 

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves. 

By noon the wind had polished the clouds out of the sky, and the sea had a hard, merry sparkle. I unfolded the second "prescription." 

Next week you will learn about that one. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu