During vacation last week, Erin and I visited Arrowhead, the home of author Herman Melville. I bought an illustrated copy of his most famous work, Moby-Dick and got a whole new appreciation for the opening paragraphs, which I hadn’t read since college. It’s where the character Ishmael says:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
I relate, because when I’m depressed, the sea helps me. Always.
During moments of unhappiness in my younger years, the ocean was an escape route within feet of my front steps in Revere. I would sit on the rocks and think things through. I would walk from the Point of Pines all the way to the other end of the beach and back.
The process would usually take about 90 minutes — enough time to process what I was feeling. It didn’t necessarily make me happier, and much of the time thoughts just swirled around uselessly in my head. But I always came back from the beach a little calmer, a little stronger and ready to deal with whatever I had to face.
You could say the ocean would speak to me, talking me off the ledge.
I live away from the coast now, in a city sliced in half by the Merrimack River. The river has an equally calming effect on me, and I walk along it every chance I get. But every once in a while I go back to Revere or a closer place like Newburyport or Salisbury to get my pep talk from the sea.
To be fair, Ishmael’s adventure in Moby-Dick turned out to be anything but pleasant, and growing up by the beach wasn’t always sublime. The Blizzard of 1978 and the Perfect Storm of 1991 were destructive, and seeing the ocean rage as it did scared the hell out of me.
But those experiences are far outweighed by the many gifts the sea has given me.