Thursday, June 21, 2007
It was dusk at Ashbridges Bay when I encountered a crowd of people attentive and smiling as they stood there waiting. My first instinct was to glance skyward at what I thought would be a full spectrum kites with people attached to them, their tethers criss-crossed by the paths of catapulting volleyballs, but their was nothing in view. I looked back at the crowd. They were planted together, people of all kinds, tightly packed, standing with their eyes directed uniformly toward the beach in deep anticipation. In the next instant I was startled, unprepared for the enormous crash of yelling and screaming that impulsively cracked the air. It was chaos at first. I found myself trying to disentangle the excruciating sound. The adults stood red in the face and unrelenting, reveling in this rare and absurd freedom. Unconscious and never more awake the shrill sound flowed evenly from their mouths, as their emotions seemed to step closer and closer to a precipice. The children delighted in the play with strained faces and smiling eyes, exploiting the freshly granted permission, for them it was like devouring candy. The discharge of emotional polyphony seemed like it would go on forever. I realized I had been holding my breath and the insides of my chest had frozen stiff. As I finally inhaled, the chorus began to dissipate into the darkening ceiling. The sounds of joyous release and celebration revealed patches of unexpected despair, people falling to their knees, others with unexplained tears hiding their faces from the children and many others spontaneously embracing the person standing next to them.
In the direction of the muted horizon I noticed the object of their attention, an arrangement of amorphous shapes. The orbs glowed from the bellies of curious wooden vessels, dories I think. There must have been a hundred of them spread over the expanse of the beach and into the shallow water like fireflies that had finally landed. They seemed to extend off into the universe fusing the ground, the water and the sky. In the midst of the experience I glanced back and forth periodically. I noticed as the sound modulated the peppered lights changed in intensity and pattern, as if the landscape was in dialogue with the crowd. Finally, as the screams subsided the light from the vessels softened and what was a crescendo of light, sound and earth returned to dusk and respectful calm.
In the last moments rather than stand on the fringes I cautiously walked toward them. Just in view and beyond the crowd, I noticed someone who appeared to be measuring the moment in preparation for a repeat performance, standing peacefully alone as he surveyed the air. After a period of reorientation and without speaking a word, the conductor raised his hand. Everyone knew what to do, myself included. As he slowly raised his other arm I began to yell with the others. I don’t know how many times I reloaded my voice. I do know it had been decades since my body had been pushed to these limits. As our voices were heard, the lights began to reveal themselves again. The feeling was familiar, lying on my parent’s bed recovering from a long cry, my finger in the air tracing the cracks in the ceiling as if it was a road map to secret places, my weakened lungs still stuttering. I remember it was a good feeling and something I appreciated even as a four-year-old child. As our effort increased we exhausted our bodies and collectively cast our insides onto the water. The landscape gestured back with messages of beauty and forgiveness.