A sunrise is fleeting and fragile. The elements might combine for just a moment of breathtaking technicolour glory, then break apart.
Our lives are just as fragile.
On the first of this month, my friend Ellison Bloomfield wrote quite the most beautiful, brave and moving blog post it has been my privilege to read, entitled A resurrection*.
For Ellison, Thursday 1 September 2016 marked the fifth anniversary of
her (thankfully unsuccessful) attempt to take her own life. She now sees
the annual arrival of this date as “a birthday of sorts,” marking “the
death of complacency”. I love Ellison’s statement of determination to
get the better of her depression with each new day:
“I have to choose to live. Every day. It is not a subconscious act, I
don’t blindly meander through my life. I force myself every day to get
up, to exercise, and to eat, to go outside and not just stay in bed.”
None of us should blindly meander through life. Ever.
Not at all clever of me
On the fourth of this month (the day, I realise as I write this, when I was fleetingly 43 ½ on the nose), I went for an early Sunday morning walk on a beach in Cornwall at dawn. I was gifted a quite gorgeous sunrise (depicted above). I was guilty of blindly meandering into danger.
The beach as day breaks is a special place and time. It’s hard not to think of the eternal and elemental simplicity of time and tide, of the waves wiping everything clean. New day, new life, new possibility.
This particular time on this particular beach was beautiful and quiet. Very few people. A lone surfer. A single dog walker. A young couple, laughing and in love, for whom it was probably the tail-end of last night rather than a new morning.
My reveries were abruptly broken when I realised I’d misjudged the tide times. Rather than the waves starting to go out, high tide was imminent.
The only way off the beach at that point was to clamber over an outcrop of rocks to reach a staircase up the cliffside. An outcrop of rocks that was only a moment from being completely submerged.
At first getting to these rocks seemed like a silly game of cat and mouse. Waiting for the waves to surge against the rocks then fall back a wee tad, giving me a second or so to scurry ‘round with minimal foot soakage.
All elements of playfulness drained away when I was on a slippy, seaweed-covered rock just a few feet from the start of the cliffside stairs. The waves were now of a different size and severity. The rock I was on was suddenly ankle-deep in water.
It was quite plausible that I could be pulled out to sea by the waves and dashed against the rocks. Just a fortnight earlier, a father and his tiny daughter lost their lives in similar circumstances on the very same beach. It was quite plausible that the two old ladies who’d just appeared on the cliffside stairs and were smiling at the (admittedly rather comic) sight of an increasingly soaked middle-aged man panicking might be about to witness my final moments.
Sighting a very big wave just about to hit, I lunged over to grab the metal banisters at the base of the stairs. I held on tight as the waves crashed over me, drenching everything. Soaked. Scared. Waterproof footwear full of water. Headphones stil pumping out Underworld** as if nothing had happened. Alive.
As the wave pulled back to redouble its efforts, I hauled myself over the banister and onto the stairs, to commence the squelchful trudge back to where we were staying. “That wasn’t at all clever of me,” I was able smilingly to say to the two old ladies as I passed them.
Soaked. Feeling like an idiot. But profoundly thankful to be alive.
I didn’t realise how close I’d come. Later that morning, BBC Breakfast covered a beautiful Hindu ceremony for the five souls recently lost in the seas off Camber Sands. One of their friends spoke of the vital importance of beach safety***. Later that week, I returned to the same spot where I’d got into trouble, but at low tide. The full maze of jagged rocks encircling the cliffside stairs that had been lurking just below the crashing waves was revealed.
I am lucky to be here. We are lucky Ellison is here. You are lucky to be here.
Each life is fragile. Each new day offers the chance of new life and new possibility.
May we all still be here for tomorrow’s sunrise.
* My thanks to Ellison for her kind permission to quote from her post here. Ellison is one of my favourite writers, and I would encourage you to be a regular visitor to her Eutrapely blog.
** This is the Underworld song that was playing at that moment:
*** The NHS provides a quite excellent guide to beach safety.