Finding My Self in the East End

Written By: Ann Purcell  Tiernan

It was 30-30 with two more points left to go to win the match in the finals of the women’s club championship at my families’ club in East Hampton. My opponent hit a lob shot. As I situated myself under the ball to return the shot, I was suddenly engulfed in a thick, liquid silence that spread out like an air balloon, growing bigger and bigger. Everything appeared to be in slow motion, and I felt like I was swimming under water in a dense sea of stillness.


In this moment, I felt like laughing inside. The scene beside me of the sporty crowd all wearing sunglasses as they watched the tournament, seemed comical. Everyone looked so serious as their heads moved left and right, intently following the tennis ball going back and forth.


I had a hard time focusing in on the tiny tennis ball compared to this new, unknown vastness that I was experiencing. Somehow, I managed to hit the ball hard and won the point. Now it was match point, and I easily won the final point by returning my opponent’s serve down the line.


My parents came running over and gave me a big hug. All of my family and friends circled me to offer their congratulations. I felt very strange and unattached to the fact that I had just beaten the reigning fourth year in a row club champion who was at least ten years older than me.


After the game, I went home and sat on our dock overlooking Georgica Pond—one of my favorite places in the East End. My mind went back to the new experience I had while playing tennis during the match. Looking out over the pond once again, I felt the same peaceful feeling overtake me. The geese and ducks on the water became a part of this calm along with the sky and the soft wind that was blowing across my face.


I love the beauty of East Hampton. It captivated me the moment my parents moved here when I was a teenager. During those years, I was a party girl and basked in the glamorous life of going to beach parties, attending dances at the club, and meeting all these people whose parents were connected to fame and fortune in some way.


Even before the profound experience of expanded awareness on the tennis court today, I had started to question the lifestyle out here. I was caught in a tide of privileged circumstances, but they no longer seemed to satisfy me. I felt increasingly out of sync with the lifestyle I was bathing in. Just when I would start to get into a deeper discussion at a cocktail party, someone would inevitably come up and interrupt our discussion. The conversations rarely went beyond, “Hello, how are you?”


These last few years, I’ve struggled to stay afloat as I started to question the purpose of my life and tried to figure out who I was. Little by little, I began to swim out of the current that was drowning me in my confusion. I started to spend more time enjoying the natural beauty that is so abundant out here, and I was learning how to say “no” to the endless stream of cocktail parties.


Earlier today on the tennis court when time seemed to stand still, something new unfolded—I felt temporarily free from the constraints of who I was, at least superficially, as a person. In fact, I was my truest self for the first time— just me without any outer conditionings.


I was interrupted from my train of thought when my parents called me to come inside to visit with some close friends they had invited for dinner to celebrate my victory. Throughout the meal, I felt my mind was operating on two levels. On one level, I was keeping up with the conversations, but on another, I was experiencing inner feelings that questioned everything around me—especially the overflowing of alcohol and the diminishing of everyone’s coherence as the evening progressed.


The next day I went for an early morning walk on the white sandy beach. The ocean is my refuge; it always calms down my overactive, analyzing-everything mind. Even as a young girl, whenever I was upset I would sit on the beach. Fortunately, this beautiful, sunny morning, I felt happy inside. I don’t know why. I just woke up feeling this way.


“People are always happy at the beach, especially children,” I thought to myself. “ I feel fortunate just to be able to walk on these beaches. I could have grown up under very different circumstances, and never even have seen the ocean.”


As the day progressed, I went to meet some friends for a game of golf. It seemed silly to me that I was spending so much of my time just trying to hit a ball into a hole. I had the same feeling yesterday during the game of tennis; just hitting a ball back and forth seemed ridiculous compared to the huge silence that enveloped me.


A few minutes later, as I was walking over the bridge of the fourth hole of the golf course, I looked up and saw swans gliding across Hook Pond. In the distance, the sand dunes stood shining as the ocean stretched to the blue sky behind them. The scene captured me in a moment of beauty.


The next moment I thought to myself, “Playing a game of golf is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and be with good friends, and playing tennis is a great way to be outside and get exercise.”


I realize I have mixed feelings about living in such a beautiful place. I almost feel guilty to have so much abundance and beauty around me, especially when the world outside this peaceful haven is in such turmoil. However, it does not feel right to be unhappy when I am surrounded by the magical nature of the light when the sun sets, the melodious sounds of the birds singing, the sky blue hydrangeas, and the intoxicating smell of the privet as I walk the tree covered roads.