I visited old friends last week and since they live near the ocean I got in some beach time. My friends are avid ocean lovers and I carried some of that love with me onto the sand. After marking the spot that would take me back to their house I set off in a northerly direction.
The tide was going out and the still damp, packed sand near the waterline was smooth and dark and easy to walk on. The gray skies reflected in the gray water and the waves themselves looked lazy and relaxed. It's always reassuring to see the ocean again, to hear the surf and know its constancy and to carry that knowledge home.
Few people were about and the repetitive murmur of the ocean only added to the silence. Memories of other beach walks passed through my mind of course, but they weren't unhappy—far from it—and I walked on contented. Here was a slight rise in the sand, a kind of low knoll. Standing atop it I could see farther into the sea and I scanned for boats or whales; neither was seen.
But there was something worth noting. An invisible line marked the water's behavior. On one side the waves turned north, and on the other side they turned south, meeting at a 45 degree angle. I've seen this before of course, it's not unusual. But I had never paid much attention. Now, with no pressure to be anywhere, I stood and watched.
I could discern no reason for this behavior, the beach looked perfectly flat, but the waves continued at cross-purposes. Instead of running up the beach in unison they came from opposite directions, crossing and recrossing, forming ripples and ridges but striving to make progress despite the interference. A little like our political parties I thought, though the waves eventually found their way and did their duty.
As I write today the country is mourning the death of Senator John McCain, a man who loved his country deeply and who deserves our respect even if we disagreed with his politics. What struck me this afternoon was the very bright line separating McCain's life from the president's. The two could not be more dissimilar. Will this bright line expose the choice that now faces us? It's very clear: love of country or utter disregard for country—patriotism or deluded vanity.
We've all worked at cross-purposes at times; it's a human failing. But this week feels like a critical moment for the country. And the choices couldn't be clearer. We must wake up, and like the ocean waves, do our duty.