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Preface & Reader Response



I heard the waves repeat the phrase
"Give Back, America."


 


THE PERSONAL UNIVERSE



KEEP IT MOVING

by Jerry Murley

It is remarkable how easy it is to stop talking – to cease conjuring up persuasive arguments – to pause scribbling to convince or entertain others or oneself. That is as it should be: if there is nothing worth saying, stop speaking. If only our world worked that way, it would be a more tranquil place. Attention and focus would supplant a peripatetic scramble.

A few weeks ago I sat on the sands of the Redneck Riviera. The Gulf was calm. The waves steadily caressed the shore. The wildlife was sparse but vibrant. Occasionally pelicans flew in formation low over the water close to the beach. Porpoises dove rhythmically and jumped fully from a close-by channel of dark water that ran between strips of glowing green shallow water as they feasted on fish trapped between parallel sandbars.

Observing much, I thought little of workaday fare. I was quiet as I listened to gasps of wonderment from my beach mate, who was enthralled by schools of small fish close to shore. I was content to hear the waves of the sea, the heartbeat of the planet. As I rested, the sea moved. As I watched, the earth changed. The thought of vast nothingness was emphatically not nothing: it was a catalyst for healing – for remembering man's humble place. In a year of tumult, it was a slow reminder of the recuperative power of stillness and nature.

During those few days at the beach, nothing was quite as important or as interesting as walking the beach. With sun rising, we walked. With sun descending, we walked. We were not the only ones at the beach on the first days of October. It was a beautiful weekend with cool breezes – not too hot during the day, not too chilly at night. Others from Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida were there. Like the entranced seekers in "Close Encounters of a Third Kind," all seemed drawn as by a magnet or a shared secret to land's end. All lingered until the very end of sunlight at the water's edge, holding onto the marvel around them by their fingertips as if once gone the splendor would be lost for a long time. Some had chairs placed in the low water on sandbars that reached tens of yards into the Gulf. They sat with books, reading sporadically between frequent glances at the surrounding water. There were dozens of motorcyclists visiting the area between Destin and Panama City. They had come to an organized gathering in Panama City. Occasionally we could hear a motorcycle up on the coastal road, but more often we saw the cyclists admiring the view at sundown from atop the dunes – their movement stilled by the Gulf, except for the exertion of lifting a beer can now and then.

Ours seems a world of aimless rather than determined action: people are constantly on the move with little focus. There appears little attention to the next step and certainly not to patterns of steps and what they mean and might do. At-rest concentration is a rare commodity. While fully aware of the troubling side of perpetual motion, I am confident that one has to keep it moving to stay balanced and thrive.

Recently something as common as heavy congestion in my chest made me consider movement more intently. Until we really need it most, we don't generally think about the effects of walking – about the effects of exercising the chest, arms, and shoulders – on the vital functions of the human body. From two separate experiences in the hospital, I clearly remember the nurses exhorting me to sit up and cough no matter how much it hurt and to walk and keep walking if I expected my body's plumbing to work. Those nurses weren't expensively educated doctors, nor were they schooled in alternative self-healing, but I got the point. Wiser and truer words were never spoken: keep it moving – move it or lose it.

It's much the same with money in harsh times: one has got to keep it circulating. In the economics of class resentment, many wish that the wealthy few had to do more for themselves. With a widened wealth gap and pumped-up technology, the wealthy and moderately well-off can do without as much direct contact with the cast of tradespeople and craftsmen that once gave spine to the nation. Times, however, call for buying more of the labor of others, not less. Though frugal and fortunate myself, I have not a prayer of a chance at wealth. Over the years, I have done for myself and sometimes delayed buying out of expectation that a big depression was just around the corner. To be prepared, I deferred the urge to spend a little bit extra. Now, however, as the first big downturn has come and stabilized but not lifted, it's a good time to move a little of what was held back to do some of the things that wanted done before but were not done. In my case, spending for non-essentials is a form of self-denial; a break of routine is another. Too-precious possessions and rigidly set ways are surely as heavy a congestion on the spirit and society as mucous is on the chest. Personal funds and superfluous stuff need to be excreted and injected into the bloodstream of modest commerce now and then. That is the Western rite of purification.

I am fond of movies with scenes of people routinely walking the streets of villages, towns, and cities, walking the moors and well-traveled trails between country homes and towns. Movies set in England from anytime prior to the end of WWII or in modern-day New York City are favorites. Slogging treks across a desert or endless ice have no such appeal for me. The traffic of our times in all its hubbub seems to me to be anti-movement. Yet, in the quiet of a car without added distractions, we can meditate like monks in cars: one's commuter vehicle becomes a cloistered cell; the traveler drifts in careful contemplation. Otherwise the competition and stall of traffic congestion – swamped in the overbearing noise of talk, music, and the news – is as far removed from the essence of healthy human existence as toxic slime in a third-world sewer or a Louisiana marsh. Nonetheless, I do favor a road trip on the open back highway. Cars can take us to incredible spaces, but with all their dominance, it is only on the rarest of occasions that they do so.

More than once, during that weekend at the beach, I heard the waves repeat the phrase "Give Back, America." Amid all the thoughts and words and actions, all the pushing and shoving that reflect entitled notions of take, take, take, the sea spoke about what is most needed: give, give, give. It is a simple answer and a slowly satisfying one. It was heartening to see highway repair work underway throughout Alabama, public work that needed doing being done when so many question the function of civil authority. It was a relief to be with people, who no doubt held strong political differences, who did not stoop to poor taste and express political views on a lovely weekend by the sea. Refraining from such talk was indeed good politics. We were all a people of the same earth in common cause. Maybe the quietness on that beach, those stares far out to sea, that wonderment with wildlife that had survived and continued to thrive – all were testament to the fundamental respect so many have for a shared natural resource that had suddenly seemed so fragile despite its vastness. In this year, nature and man combined in vulnerability, each dependent on the actions of the other. America is nothing if not that image of vast unadulterated wildness. Still, at this moment, America is frail.

The trouble with the momentum of giving is that giving requires an element of free choice. The external world can suggest, inform, prod, and channel giving for better effect, but the giver must willingly participate on some level. With a predominate mindset of taking, concerted public giving doesn't stand much of a chance. Nevertheless, even among the take-take-takers, sentimental cultural pressures work their charm – so long as the focus is on limiting the recipients of gifts to those most like (or least threatening to or farthest away from) the giver's identity group – and provided that the mode of giving falls within prescribed forms with the compatible intent of promoting the giver's cultural interests. Giving to a public pool is just too difficult to control in detail for the many Americans who think that they need to control in detail. Congestion starts with bloating: like clinging to like and crowding out unlike.

At times, we keep it moving best by keeping still. Unlike congestion, concentration moves. To abate congestive problems requires time and concentrated effort. To come to know a good strategy takes informed focus and consistent logic. We breathe best with a mind that lifts and exhales like the waves of the sea. Grasping is not our vitality, it is our desperation. Anger is not our rightness, it is our corruption. Power is not our horizon, it is our setting sun. Where the sea meets land, we know our personal destiny is no more consequential to the universe than the grains of sand that bind together to give soft, cool support to our moving feet. We keep it moving: we walk, we think – we give. We get from nature and from the nation what we sacrifice for them. Without stretches of willing self-denial, we stop cold as individuals – and as a species we cease to share the clear blue open waters.

 

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