In a rather unmemorable scene of a fairly unremarkable movie called “Chasing Mavericks”, Frosty tells the young man he is training to surf about watermen. These surfers, he says, are deeply acquainted with the ocean; they know that when a wave comes at them they will be able to make something happen. It’s as if the saltwater has seeped into their bloodstream. They feel a connection to the water – almost as if they know what the sea will do even before she decides it herself. It wasn’t a masterpiece of a film: I do love it though. I loved how Jay crushed on the same girl for a long long time and then got to kiss her at the end after she ran into the pizza place were he worked to get out of the rain. Maybe it’s the reason I work at a coffee shop and rent surf boards when I’m on the coast. I guess I’m still waiting for a good rainstorm.
A few months ago I was taking my Fall semester midterms in college. Honestly, none of them were very hard. Sometimes I feel a little like a geek when I catch myself feeling disappointed about how juvenile some of my classes are. It’s like I’m back in high school and re-learning all that stuff again. Except here the teachers don’t tell your parents if you cuss or don’t show up for class. In fact, I think my one teacher really gets a kick out of cussing. She’s told me twice that she is a deacon at her church; cussing during English does seem to thrill her though. I remember walking into the classroom the day of the midterm with a backpack and a pencil and water bottle and whatever else I might have been bearing and feeling totally at ease. The midterm was an in-class essay. I can’t do just a whole lot of things in this life, but if you give me sixty minutes, I’ll write you an essay. That I can do.
Every Monday I have to attend a science lab class in Fulp building on campus. It’s a three hour slot of time and really drags out a Monday. The teacher is a Russian guy with a formidable last name no one dares attempt. I discovered that while things like Newton’s laws and how to graph data is pretty universal, explaining such things is not. I have little doubt that my Russian and Nepalian science teachers grasp such things, tightly, explaining them to your average American college kid is another thing though. So usually we just read the directions, do the best we can to complete the experiment, ask as few questions as possible, and try to get done and get out.
One Monday the lab concerned electrical circuits. The instructions were vague at best. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was supposed to be happening on the board in front of me. The lab group is a pristine example of what my psychology class has taught me is termed social loafing. Simply put, my friend and I do all the work, and everyone gets an A and has a good time. But not today. It soon became quite apparent that Chase, a classic loafer, actually knew quite a bit about circuits. I just took a pencil and the sheet and kept telling him to slow down so I could record as he went. He knew exactly what to do, and did it perfectly. This is Chase, the kid who has previously proven himself quite lousy at anything intellectual. The professor set up his own circuit board beside ours and struggled to make it work. When he walked away to answer a question, Chase, walked over to the end of the table and fixed it for him, just like that. Our group finished in less than an hour. As we were packing up, I sat and watched as he lent a hand to the girls to our left who didn’t have a clue about circuits. I marveled. The man was in his element.
Just about everybody has a thing or two which they know, if given sixty minutes, they can execute. If you go fishing with my dad, he will catch more fish than you. It doesn’t matter where or what or when – he will out-fish you. If you stand my mother in a kitchen before an empty table, she can fill it masterfully, tastefully. My brother Luke is about the best fire starter I’ve ever known. If you give him a single match and something remotely flammable, he will make you a fire. We used to come home from school and build a fire everyday just for the heck of it. If you give Springsteen a room of people and a guitar, he will make the magic happen. If you give Chesterton a piece of chalk a few yards of wallpaper, he will write you a newspaper article. These gifts are, I think, a mingling of the divine with the carnal. It’s something that we are even if we can’t necessarily explain it on paper. Watermen in a thousand different oceans.
Inside our spaces, the places where know we can excel, we feel something that feels right. Buechner said that your calling, what you were made for, is “Where the world’s deep hunger and your deep gladness meet”. I have felt that gladness sometimes. Fishing, photographing, communicating, these things bring me joy. The struggle comes I think when I see a world which seems without an appetite; she is in no need of me, and she has no deep hunger for any gladness of mine. I must elbow my way through the crowd and deprive her, drive her to hunger. That is the temptation, the doubt. Jon Foreman says that doubt and faith are equally logical options. I’ve seen them both and chosen likewise.
I want to believe that somewhere in the world, apart from this website and the dozen people who kindly read its content, there’s a place for me. That sometime, maybe not too far off, I’ll make my way to a place in an ocean that is hungry for my gladness. Aye, even hungry enough to pay my rent. If not, maybe I’ll hitchhike to California and buy a surfboard – a waterman one way or another.