Friday, July 23, 2004

Sea Shells (The Twins)

Some of the happiest memories of my childhood in South Africa involve the ocean. It’s a very different kind of ocean to that found here in the Pacific Northwest, or over on the northeastern seaboard of the United States, and I miss it often.

One of my favorite things to do at the ocean was, and is, to study tide pools. When I was six years old, in Cape Town, I would collect shells and put every one to my ear, wondering how the ocean got inside. It was a cruel trick my parents played on me, putting into my head the idea that the ocean was inside those shells. When I was 7, after we moved to Toronto, I would sit in our living room and listen to the shells. I would also spend ages staring at the dried baby lobster, trapped deep inside a piece of coral my parents had brought with us.

Now I can’t remember what it felt like to walk on those beaches anymore, and I know well enough that the ocean can’t be found in a seashell – it’s an empty promise. The seashell holds only the notion of something so deep and rich as the ocean; the king’s new clothes -- it only manages to feign beauty and trick the naive.

It’s funny how some people can try so hard to be something they are not. If you close your eyes and listen, you can hear the sound of the waves, you can feel the water in the wind, and you can almost taste the salt. Open your eyes again, and you see only the dried coral and the dead lobster – and you know, if you were to scrape that lobster out of the coral, it would be nothing but orange dust.