Inter-Generational Ocean Memory

As we consider the challenging world situation we face, there is frequent mention of what we leave for our children. And as we propose that the ocean is the one natural system that connects all aspects of human endeavor, it is only logical that we address the legacy we leave the next generation who rely on us to do our best.

Some might question what kind of job we have done. Climate, security, energy, food, freshwater — these and so many other aspects of our survival are challenged today to be sure, and they demand some kind of trans-generational responsibility and action on our part, for which strategies and proposals and viable alternatives are often aired here. Sometimes I feel as if we are making good progress; other times that optimism is challenged, as we are forced to deal with circumstance not of our making, in places near and apart, that distract from forward-thinking and innovation by the sheer power of violence, destruction, fear, regression, and sadness. Too many children, displaced by the inexplicable, will have no future, and there too we will be held accountable.

As an antidote, I have been thinking about a different kind of generational connection, through memory of what is known and retained from the best of our endeavor. The ocean has never been a truly peaceful place. It has known war and loss, the anger of storm as irrational as is sometimes our own. But the ocean also contains a counter-force of peace, as a font of prosperity, as a place for change and exchange, for welcome over hostility, for calm and stasis, as a place for inspiration and making. The ocean carries memory from generation to generation. We remember the first time we ever saw it as an awesome place beyond the confines of our land-based imaginations. We remember how it seems, sounds, feels, smells, and embraces our senses, thus our brains, our psyches, and our secret selves. We remember it as a healing place, salt on our skin, in our eyes, on our tongues, and it plays with us as much as we play with it. These memories matter. And how I wish I could share them with the perpetrators and their victims, with those who have never seen the sea, perhaps now never will.

Can I take these feelings, these memories, and send them off as packages of care and hope for generations now and then to come? Can those memories of the past transfer through the ether to be inspirations for a future without despair? Is it meaningless even to have such thoughts when we know the desperation of strangers in Europe, in Africa, even in our own country where there is such freedom that we cannot abide, or allow, its power to dissipate or fall victim to our own version of ego and abuse and dislocation? Can I take up drops of ocean and fling them far and wide as a calming spray, a baptismal rain that says this is senseless, this is suicidal, this is absurd. Is it naïve to think that a tsunami of kindness and tolerance and commonality might bathe the battle and killing fields with peace? Is it too much to expect that we can, through memory, through a wave of healing water, put an end to the worst of who we can be? Can the ocean lead us away from such darkness into redeeming light?

A poem by Emily Dickinson occurs:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses — past the headlands —
Into deep Eternity —

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

“Exultation is the going”
#76 (c.1859)
Emily Dickinson
(1830–1886)

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 13 years this year, with more than 625 episodes produced to date.

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