At the Still Point by George Merrill

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From my studio window I enjoy a limited view of Broad Creek. Locals call it Saddler’s Cove. It’s a preferred landing site for birds – ducks and geese occasionally, but mostly herons. The shallow water in the cove provides them easy access to minnows and an occasional water snake. Of course, the cove is also home to aquatic creatures like fish, crabs and oysters. At first glance you think it’s a still and sleepy place, vintage tidewater ambience. However, there are times when nature gets busier than traffic does on Rt. 50 on a summer weekend. It’s a still spot, but at the same time there can be all kinds of goings on.

My mobility of late has been temporarily limited due to an injured knee. Now I spend more time in the studio just sitting and gazing out the window. The studio has become the center of my world, the still point of my universe. Too bad it takes a bum knee to settle down and be still long enough to be aware of what’s going on around me.

Looking out the window one day, not focused on anything in particular, my view was dimmed by a large shadow cast by something flying high above. At first I saw only the shadow. Then a Great Blue Heron came into full view. He was circling and preparing to land in the cove. He made a lazy pass over the site as if he were waiting for clearance from flight control. Getting the go ahead, he began his final approach. Near touchdown he arched backward, throwing his legs forward the way a broad jumper does before he hits the dirt. The heron landed effortlessly in about two inches of water.

I watched the Heron with awe. Just before touchdown, the Heron flapped his wings strategically, allowing him to substantially break the velocity of his descent. He practically parachuted to earth, legs bent forward to absorb any shock he might make upon contact.

I winced when I thought of my own knees bending backwards like that. One knee of mine feels as though it had.

What with physical therapy, two visits to an orthopedist and finally owning that I had done a number on my knee, I’ve become conscious of life’s appetite for movement in general, and my own mobility in particular.

Life is always on the move. All God’s creatures want to get up and go. They like to fly, soar, jump, swing, roll, dig, flip, or dive for the sheer joy of it. Some divide themselves into halves like amoebas or regrow a lost limb like starfish, but I suspect that’s out of functional necessity. They’re not doing it just for fun.

Recently I saw a little girl busy at the end of dock – checking crab traps I guess. When she completed her task, she began skipping along the dock and back to the land. I was mesmerized watching her. Her movements seemed inspired, a moment of pure abandon and playful lightheartedness that seizes all of us at one time or another. We just can’t resist it. Jumping for joy is a popular way of putting it. I could not remember for the life of me how I once skipped. I remember the joy I felt, though.

Amusement parks capitalize on the thrill that various forms of mobility can excite. As a boy, I remember riding the parachute jump at Coney Island.

Standing on the boardwalk, my view of the world was narrowly circumscribed by a limited horizon, the usual view for anyone who is earthbound. The world grows larger on the parachute jump.
Secured safely we began the ascent. Gradually my world opened up and I gained a bird’s eye view of New York City, Long Island, Staten Island and parts of New Jersey. The ascension is titillating, but the high point of the adventure is when we drop.

I’m secured in a canvas seat with another boy. Suddenly I feel as if it’s falling out from under us – I scream – everyone screams – some for terror, some in delight, most screaming for both. We plummet downward, delivered at the last minute by the restraining jolt of the tether attached to the tower’s crown.

Movement is the essence of cosmic energy. What about creatures that have no means for their own locomotion? Nature lands a helping hand. Consider the milkweed seed. It takes nothing more than a breath of fresh air to set these diaphanous threads aloft and soaring. Milkweed seeds need do nothing except to lie back and enjoy the friendly skies until the threads are flown to their final destination. Safely delivered with their tiny package intact, like the legendary stork, they bring to wherever they light a brand new life.

Years ago in Manhattan I entered the subway to catch the train uptown. I boarded and got seated. Across the platform, I saw another train. It, too, was stopped waiting for passengers going downtown.

In a few minutes, looking out the window I felt distinctly we were moving. But, I was unsure. Was my train moving or the other? I was disoriented. Just who was on the move. Entering a tunnel I could see then that my train was moving. I recognized the motion as mine only when I had reference to a still point.

We live in both a material and spiritual world. In the material world, motion and busyness easily become addictive. We’re on the move all the time, hurrying here and there, and fidgeting with this and that. But until we gain some access to the still point deep within us around which everything spins, it can be for us like it was for me that day in the subway, when I couldn’t be sure at all just who was moving and who was at rest.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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