Last fall, our family took a little jaunt out to the coast. In my pregnant hugeness, I wasn't able to play as much as usual, but I enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the sand and watch my brood chase after the waves.
CPod's family beach condo is in a high rise right on the water. We can see the dusky blue-gray Atlantic from the balcony, and the sea-borne wind whips that unmistakable briny scent into every scrap of fabric within its purview. When we're there, my children smell hot and salty as the essence of primordial water permeates every eyelash, skin cell, toe nail, fingerprint. When you're at the beach, you become the beach -- sun-bleached, sweaty, watermellowed, gritty.
While the boys and their daddy raced the water and dug in the sand, I lounged and photographed and observed, and as I watched my little family interact with the world around us, I found myself completely transfixed by the continuous pound and recession of the waves. Hypnotized, I searched for patterns in the crush of water against sand and each time I thought I might have it figured out, my logic would fail as the wave fell inexplicably far from my prediction.
But not inexplicably.
Those tides were, are, relentless and utterly reliable. They are governed by laws of nature that stretch the limits of both our solar system and my intellect. Detailed and complicated equations, formulated and refined by generations of marvelous scientific minds, calculate with accuracy the highest and lowest possible points of a tide on a given beach, as well as the time, every 12.5 hours or so, when that low or high will occur. High tide on one coast generally means low tide on another one as the entire volume of oceanic water performs a dance of give and take, hips swaying gently from one continent to another. It all depends on the interplay of lunar and solar gravity, with a dash of terrestrial rotation. Throw in local weather and some overarching atmospheric patterns and you get an infinitely variable but still miraculously predictable life-sustaining system.
I learned a new word: syzygy. Syzygy. Syzygy (say it -- you'll like it: si-zuh-gee) occurs when the stars are all aligned: average tides happen when the sun, earth, and moon form a right angle, with our tiny planet in the corner. But when our three governing celestial bodies end up aligned, pretty maids all in a row, new moon and full, we see the highest of high tides, the lowest of low. Syzygy is that wave's moment -- the one time when it can reach a little higher, a little farther, touch a little more dry sand with its briny fingers.
Sometimes, I get there, too. Last month, I played Copland's Appalachian Spring with the symphony. The piece is lovely and impressive and a definite crowd favorite. Copland was a genius of orchestration, and his simple but powerful inclusion of the old Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" in a piece that truly speaks the majestic language of my mountains nearly brings me to tears every time I hear it. But the true gem is in the transition to "Simple Gifts" -- a mere 8 measures of collective breathing as the entire strings section gently sighs three simple chords, first up high, then lower. I hear as much in the silence of those measures as I do in the notes, and sometimes, if all of my celestial bodies are standing where they should be, if all of my symphonic cohorts are focused, reaching, listening, we transcend, we breathe as one organism, we weep the chords through the rills and waterfalls of our beloved home and touch a little more dry sand.
I've wondered lately how many moments of syzygy I have missed because I haven't been paying attention, or I've been focused on the wrong horizon. Some of those missed opportunities won't come around again, but I'm hoping for some second chances at reaching my potential.