Dunbar Harbour. A tiny nook of land nestled tightly against the North Sea. The horizon shoulders in equal measure a ghostly, white mist and the slowness of morning sea. Waves of amber grey taste the red rocks of Scotland’s southeast shoreline. And the timid shores trade their sins for the secrets of the deep, betrothed in waves of forgiveness. Pink-cheeked seamen toss buckets of fish as bate into lobster traps readying for the day’s catch. There’s a sharpness to this low tide air, the sea’s pungent reminder of her abiding presence.
A lit-geek to the core, I doffed my book-bag complete with eyeglass cleaner, multiple writing implements, not one but two journals, half a dozen books and of course, my laptop. One always hopes the effort of lugging around an extra twenty-five pounds of geekery will pay off on some seaside park bench. Thereupon will I compose the next great American novel or T.S. Eliot’s long awaited Fifth Quartet, or even just the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey.
Instead, it became a large security blanket that added beats per minute to my heartrate and a rather sore neck. That said, my own journey this morning included a leisurely stroll beside these kelp-lined shores. I saw an interesting strand of beach to my right, southward down the coast and began walking in its direction.
A few steps in however and I glanced back. My view was given much better capital in the other direction. So, I redirected myself and walked northward through the ample streets lining the shore. It was to provide some rather rewarding eye candy and even more soul food.
If God is my father, the sea is my mother, and Scotland her teat upon which I gratefully suckle. In all my yearning for a sense of harbour – a deeper certainty of my soul’s DNA – these moments come closest.
So much of life is lived in a sea of perceptions. A few of those are based on reality. Some are not. Like this morning, they come upon me by way of hint, innuendo, suggestion. They leave the potential of other things yet to come. It is the gentle, sideways life that doesn’t leave me breathless, but simply curious.
At other times, without warning, I find myself stranded on a tiny isthmus that is no guarantee that I won’t be swept away in the insistent, foaming anger of my changing tide. Either way, it is how we must all live.
Our perceptions of the world are, for us, what really is, in spite of what may actually be true. This sneaky truth is the reason why we must always be in pursuit of whatever is true, or good, or noble as St. Paul suggests in his letter to the church at Philippi.
I’ve been to these shores often enough to recognize the layers of what I see. There is the Scotland of history, the one with sharp wounds cut deep in her skin of stone. There is the Scotland of my imagination, the mythology of Celtic knowing and bardic mysticism.
But there is the Scotland that just is. It is traffic horns and coffeeshops and Tandoori restaurants and cell phones. It is a collection of wiry old sea dogs, self-absorbed businessmen and dark-haired, haggard looking moms. It is a clash of class, struggle, and culture like anywhere else.
Mostly, like everywhere else, it is a place where people simply live.
And, it is this discovery that has blessed me on this trip more than any other. Any of my previous fanciful notions of the place have been chipped away. What remains is an unadorned appreciation for what my senses perceive. And, in fact, as I am further removed from any need to either sanctify or romanticize it, I receive the deeper gifts available from just keeping my eyes open.
Well, either that, or I’m finally adulting (at 52!).
These moments help escort me away from the rocky shoals of misperception that are so damaging. And, even as the healing presence of Scotland’s broad sea, green vest, and briny aftershave grace my steps this afternoon, I can internalize all this to take with me when we return.
The deftness of wind, strength of stone, and the broad belly of sea will speak their secrets in my lesser moments. I can share what I’ve heard of God’s voice with the dear souls to whom I return.
And, when the unforgiving summer sun in Yakima valley steals the breath from my lungs, I can put in its place what I have today experienced. Perceptions can, for a moment at least, be what is true.
And in that moment, the truth will set me free.