Old Glory’s stars defy a relentless wind that pins its stripes, their fingertips fluttering, toward Asbury Park. An earthbound pigeon bobs around my feet, then perches on a rail at the end of the Ocean Grove pier.
“Is that you, Mom?” I think, half-jokingly.
She would’ve told me to skip a day like this. Although a pale blue sky stretches to the horizon — and, presumably, beyond — the north winds blow chilly and cold. Like October.
At least I’m wearing a jacket.
Hours ago, loved ones who left too soon were remembered in a different way, on a grand stage at Ocean Grove’s magnificent Great Auditorium (Click here for that entry).
I wish mom had that kind of stage when she was around.
She attended the Methodist masses in the hall, where today a mass of various shades of blue displayed the dignity of their calling, honoring three brother officers from New Jersey who died last year.
Mom liked the cavernous, wooden auditorium, with its barn-like doors that invite sea breezes in to cool the congregants. She was stirred by the choir, singing along from her stiff, wooden seat. She was provoked by whatever visiting minister was in town that day by the Shore to serve up his recipe for redemption.
Sometimes she even took in a sunrise mass on the beach, overlooking the cove where we spread her ashes six years ago.
For loved ones of the police officers honored today, the pain is all too fresh. As I watched the solemn service, I wished that I could go up to them, one by one, clasp their hands in mine, and whisper: You’ll never get over it, but you’ll get through it.
The waves gurgle silently in the sea’s depths, before suddenly cresting into whitecaps that storm the beach like invading armies.
We know the waves are there, even before they’re created. We know that they will come for each and every one of us someday — just as we know, deep down, that something could suddenly rip out a chunk of our hearts, if not sooner then later.
Unlike the wind, this tide never turns. With each wave comes another loss, as we cast for another reason to defy that which is bigger than us all.
We can’t help but seek, and find, whomever (or whatever) will become dearest to us. We just know that it will happen — the individual destiny of a collective conscience.
And we’ll grudgingly accept the price of pain as part of living, just as those who live near the waves eventually cease to hear them thumping against the shore. We classify the sorrow as passage, an EZ-Pass toll that we prefer not to notice until the account requires replenishment. If not, then the joy of loving would hold no charms, would it?
The beach is nearly empty today, save for a few grade-school kids flying a kite with a woman who looks to be their mom.
She brought them here in a coupe that’s easily 15 years old if it’s a day. She’s bathed and fed them, then clothed them in t-shirts and shorts that still fit. Now, together, the band of four have fled to a stretch of battleground wedged between a pounding surf and a relentless wind.
Mom holds tight to the string, struggling to keep the kite aloft and steady. The kids dash around her in increasingly widening circles, hoping she’s too preoccupied to notice the growing distance.
The rest of the nearby population power-walks the boards, in visors and hoodies and comfy sneakers. Even the gulls are sticking close to the man-made structures, counting the hours to Memorial Day in graceful arcs, impatiently awaiting the summer wind.
I stopped “feeling” mom long ago, as my belief grew that there’s no more than this — except, of course, for what we conjure in order to cope.
Maybe those grieving loved ones in the Great Auditorium earlier today can still feel those they’ve lost. Maybe that feeling will never go away. Or maybe the pain eventually will turn them against faith.
Soon, the wind won’t breathe as heavily, and the ocean will swing its arms in smoother, slower motions. Soon, the gulls will return to the sand. A new season will begin.
I’ll return to the Grove then, when I can easier face the great nothingness that stretches beyond mom’s cove, as throngs of all beliefs loll, roll and stretch behind me. Maybe then I will be strong enough to defy the wind, while retreating, just far enough, from the charging whitecaps.
Right now, though, I’m going home.