|Low tide at Inkwell Beach, Oak Bluffs, MA|
Three sounds have served as regular companions in the ten days since I moved into a new condo. There is the persistent, but invasive, metronome of a battery-operated clock. There are the footfalls of a young child with busy, sneaker-clad feet, and there is the crash and eddy of the waves as they strike the shore right outside my window. Each sound is associated with a clear visual image, sight is amplified by sound.
I am a prisoner of the ticking clock. It has the quality of Poe’s tell-tale heart kind of clock. When I become aware of it, it grows louder. No matter how far I go into the hinder lands of my condo, the sound of the clock ticking follows me. I had to move it out of the room adjoining my bedroom because it kept me awake. I put it in a corner on the other side of the great room. Still, it persisted in its aggressive ticking. The only solution was to wrap it in bubble-wrap, cradle it in a blanket, and then bury it under pillows. With this jury-rigged arrangement, the muted sound of the ticking clock barely reached me. At long last, sleep crept toward me as the long arms of light started to stretch across the morning horizon. Until the clock’s battery stops, or I cry “uncle,” and pull it out, the clock will continue its march toward the future, never tarrying in the present tense for more than a second. In an odd way, it is a comforting reminder to me that I must make each moment count. Time waits for no man. I may want to rail that I have less control over my world than I thought, but it will do me absolutely no good. Time keeps on its steady march.
Another sound that often punctuates my day, particularly around 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., is the patter of loud, little feet. At times, they seem to be directly outside my front door. On other occasions, I hear them directly below me. I have finally identified them as belonging to a three-year old boy who is engaged is running rapidly from room to room in an apparent frenzy in his family’s condo below mine. I have met the little boy who is catapulting himself busily from one thing to the next. For such a small child, he can be particularly loud during brief, intense bursts of activity. Accompanying the feet, I sometimes hear him crying or laughing. I hear the reasonable tone of his parents (I have heard it rumored that they might both be attorneys), trying to discuss what other behaviors might be appropriate at any given moment. He is having none of it. I have grown to feel a certain affection toward the boy. After all, my son would have been precisely the same had he been housed in a condominium complex rather than on a 12- acre spread in the country. Some children are naturally inquisitive, genetically-programmed with curiosity. One thing leads to another and their feet serve to propel them on their inquiries. It was a mere sixteen years ago that my son’s preschool director suggested he spend only half days in preschool. The reason? After lunch, the school schedule demanded nap-time. My son rebelled. His form of rebellion was to try to walk home. It took one-on-one staff to child management to ensure he did not fly the coup. He succeeded in escaping more than once, which made the administrators of the day care center reluctant to have his busy little feet under their supervision for more than five mornings per week. I heard the faint tick of the clock then, It is even louder now. The second hand sweeps forward, forward, forward.
The last intrusive sound where I am living is the vast and audial ocean. The endless chorus is lulling. It is the background to everything I do. In a way, I feel carried by the ocean’s rhythm. It seems to echo my very heartbeat. Living beside the ocean has made me realize that the sound of the ocean, whether gentle and calm or stormy and ferocious, is the translation of activity that takes place on distant and far away shores. The sound is my companion during the day and my source of solace at night. Its steady, rhythm seduces me. When I focus on the sound of the sea as it strikes the shore, all other thoughts recede from my awareness. Even the ticking of the clock measuring the passage of time -- bows to the waves. The child’s rambunctious and enthusiastic embrace of life recedes from awareness.
It is not necessary to measure; the ocean, with its own character and its own story, dominates my auditory system. Once upon a time, I fell sleep with the background sawing of my husband’s snoring and my dog’s slow, deep breathing. These days, I fall asleep with the shush of the waves roiling, tumbling, and then....wait for it... wait...
the waves retreat. In the lassitude that comes just before sleep, the sound of breathing and the sound of the sea are as one.
Like a familiar hymn, the ocean plays a song that I know by heart. I am blessed by the soporific lullaby of the sea. Just as I am about to fall asleep, it occurs that the clock, the child’s running sneakers and the vast and mighty sea are playing a song just for me. Perhaps, if I listen just a little bit more closely, I will understand exactly what they mean to say.