Years ago my sister and I were swimming in the ocean as a storm was coming in. The waves were huge and powerful. It was nearly impossible to move from the shallows where broken waves grappled in churning knots, out further to where the waves dropped one another in perpetual quarter-ton suplexes, and further still to where we wanted to be: the place where the curls were forming. Out there the waves were still simple, and their univocal thrust could lift us and carry us back over the violence and set us on shore. But the closer we got to the break line, the harder it was to stand upright and progress. We would get knocked off our feet and thrown to the bottom, and tumbled back into the foamy mud, our mouths and noses full of dirt and our bellies scored by sharp little shells.
Where the water is deeper, it is more impersonal and disciplined; waves move through the ocean and the ocean feels the movement running through it. Each quart of water makes a patient circle like a rider on a ferris wheel, returning again and again to where it began.
But once the force of the wave hits resistance, everything gets personal. The water at the bottom is smashed into the sand; the water in the middle loses its balance and begins to topple; the water at the top is overthrown and falls on its face. Volumes of water compete to be the wave, to have the wave’s momentum. Every eddy strives to pull the rest of the ocean in its wake. A foaming brood of rivers coil, constrict, crush and swallow each other endlessly.
Somewhere between the calm power of the depths and the ambitions of the shallows, where the waves touch bottom with the tips of their toes, there is motion that can move us through or over the dirty spasms of everyday conflict to bring order where there are too many orders. But to get there we must wade, fight, get slammed, sliced up and set back by the very waves we hope to ride in.