Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In Praise of Breaching Whales

They were three and four deep, pressing to the cliff's edge, their many mouths open, their many eyes blinking in the afternoon sun.  I watched them watching: a trio of Muslim women, and two bearded Jews; a pair of military men in camouflage-green, and a young couple on rented bikes.  Two watched in wheelchairs, as caregivers stood, gaping, nearby.  

Who knows why they came?  Did some social network send word, down the line, of whales in the bay?  Did the sweet, holy, delighted energy of this congregation summon them here?  Did the birds--thousands of them now--call them, insist on their coming?  They were something like a congregation, standing watch, singing a wordless hymn.  To breaching whales.  In this, our Monterey Bay.

A couple of things struck me right away, on my walk, passing by.

First, huge animals--big, round, weighty mammals--can be extraordinarily beautiful.  (I take some comfort in this!)

Second, we humans are particularly beautiful when we're watching beautiful things.  

In the eyes of the very old and the very young (who could not contain their glee).  In the eyes of the frail man in his wheel chair.  In the eyes of Muslim friends and Jews in their Holy Days.  In the eyes of runners training for marathons (who just had to stop and watch).  In the eyes of soldiers and police officers and moms trying to keep three-year-olds from diving over the edge.  We are SO BEAUTIFUL when we're SEEING BEAUTY.  

And I mean, really SEEING BEAUTY: not some fabricated, consumable beauty, but the real deal.  There were hundreds of us out there this afternoon, and (pardon me) it was a kind of secular communion.  There was such awe in us, between us, beyond us.  There was this shared recognition of what's most real, what's most important, inspiring, lovely.  It was a communion of beautiful beings, feeding in the bay, throwing themselves (and their heft) into the exquisitely mutual network of living things.

It strikes me now that everything that's hard and exasperating, everything that tries our patience and good will, all the climate problems and economic catastrophes, all of this: it can only be healed if we stand on some cliff somewhere, together, and watch.  It's who we are: to praise the Author of All This, to laugh and dance on the rim of our world as whales breach beneath us in theirs.  And we need to be this way, together.  We need to gawk at the way things are, the flocks diving for fish, the diamond-studded waves, the humpback whales leaping like dancers for our pleasure.  In awe, we'll find the will.  In awe, we'll find the still, small center.  In awe, we'll lose ourselves and find ourselves.

And that's a beautiful thing indeed.