Low Tide by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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A rising tide may well float all the boats in the harbor, but a falling tide reveals some important truths, too. And when that falling tide ultimately reaches its nadir, then, as in the looking glass, we may see ourselves as we truly are; we may in fact see ourselves face-to-face.

Take the current Presidential race. (I can hear the Borscht Belt comedians already: “Please take it!”) No matter you’re political persuasion, you have to admit: it’s as low tide as it gets. All the ego, bombast, name-calling, schoolyard bullying, vulgarity, and witch hunting: the muck along the shoreline of what was once reasonable political discourse just stinks! But it’s not just the stench of the current race that bothers me. The real problem with low tide is that it reveals our true nature and makes us vulnerable to its truths. What we thought was hidden in ourselves suddenly becomes visible. What once protected us now exposes us. At a higher tide, we might have sailed confidently into the future, but instead, we seem to have succumbed to the darker forces at work in the universe. Wait. What was that noise? I think I just heard us hit bottom.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re backing a donkey, elephant, or some other third party animal in the race. This just isn’t pretty. That cartoon cover of The New Yorker a few months back hit the nail squarely on its head. Not that JFK, FDR, Honest Abe, or even old George himself were saints, but they each had their fair share of memorable high tide moments: “Four score and seven;” “Ask not what your country can do for you;” “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Compare those ringing statements to the sound bites from this year’s candidates: the invective, the ad hominem arguments, the calls to violence (sarcastic or otherwise), the lies and half-truths, the outright misogyny would be the stuff of an Emmy-worthy episode of “All in the Family” were it not so tragic.

We may think we deserve better, but the record lowness of this tide suggests otherwise. This is exactly who and what we are when the waters recede and we’re left to stare at the rusty shopping carts, broken bottles, and old tires left behind. Maybe we thought there was plenty of water under our collective political keel, but guess what, folks: there wasn’t. Without really trying, we’ve managed to build an electoral process based on money, shallow thought, sound bites, and negativity—each and every one a jagged rock just below the tide line of our better nature.

Usually, low tide is just a passing phase and high tide will be back in a few hours. But something seems fundamentally out of balance this year. Instead of the regular breathing of the lunar cycle, we seem to have become stuck in the ooze of an ebb tide that stretches on and on into November and maybe beyond.

I really don’t like being stuck in the mud. I sure wish someone would come along and float my boat.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Brunner says:

    And at the helm is Jill Stein. A sensible voice in a sea of anger, half-truths and missing e-mails. Wake up Steve and take a walk on the wild side. Or you can always write in Bob Day.

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