Where the Light Lives

Written By: Michael Joseph  Barry

You can see it most clearly in those places where sea, sky and land converge. Although “see” is not exactly the best word to describe it, as it involves all the senses. It’s a gift to perceive, to have it there right outside your door, to allow it to embrace you and to be willing to immerse yourself in its embrace. It’s perfect and poignant in that heart-achingly beautiful way that is both joyful and tragic, and always, always fleeting.

Sometimes I go searching for it, camera slung over my shoulder, broad brimmed photographer’s hat…but then I don’t even bother to take any pictures. It’s not something that the camera can see anyway, and when I do find it, it gently insists that I become still. Sometimes it can be found along the pebbled beaches of the north fork, when the Sound glistens under the high noon sun. Sometimes it’s there in the grassy dunes of the south shore, now on the bay side beside the tall marsh grass, then on the ocean side where the plovers nest.

The only thing I really know for sure is that it happens when the sun is high, the sea is calm and the sky is infinite blue. It’s an almost tangible light and it illuminates an essential truth: that there really is no separation between sea, sky and land…and us. We, lucky earth dwellers, drawn to the sea, are a thread in the fabric that we call light. We are of the same substance, of the body of time and space, of nothing at all but that which light brings into being. Just like the sages and scientists say.

In these uncommon moments, I have stood with eyes wide open, the reeds stilled, the sea barely a ripple, as if something were consciously allowing me access to the purest, unfettered experience. I have stood and looked into the flow of light, time and space. I look back and see people, brown skinned and beautiful, contentment and belonging written on their faces. A young Unkechaug girl, radiant in the midday light of the past, knee deep in the bay, gathers clams into a woven basket, enveloped by her world and aware that she is part of this expression of light, this unity of sea, sky and land. A gray haired man smiles on the shore, and children, naked and not knowing fear, run in the sand.

The scene changes and I watch again, a young tanned child, lustrous and glistening in the sun, aimlessly poking about the shore line, ankle deep in calm, clear water. And again, I look down and there are my feet, larger now, yet still delighting in the touch of sand and sea. It is not with my mind that I understand the continuity of lives, the connection between the Unkechaug girl and myself, between all of us and between us and this place.

All the things we define as here, this part of the Island, the twin forks, the east end, the north or south shore, are made of that feeling. It’s not the gentle dunes or soft white sand, although they are beautiful. It’s not the lovely old towns, or the docks, or the fishing boats, although they are delightful as well. It’s not the grapevines, or the corn or the rows of musty potatoes. It’s not even the smell of the sea, the caress of the wind or the touch of the sun. It’s the feeling we get when these all conspire to allow us a glimpse into the fundamental essence of being.

We may love a place because of the memories. But this? That’s not quite what this is. Or perhaps it’s because of the beauty, the lure of the good life, the appeal of freedom, wealth, youth, or community. But that’s not quite it either. We may love a place because it takes us out of some other life, into a space where, even for a moment, we can forget something that pains us or some other world that is not as good as we hoped it would be. But again, that’s not what this is about. So then, what is it?

In truth, it can only be felt, but it takes no special sensitivity or attunement, and it can be felt by us all. It’s there when you emerge from the sea, water glistening, returning home as it runs off your skin, body at once cooled by the sea and warmed by the sun, feet enveloped by sand as it flows back out to sea and you transition back to the land. That is when you are in it and of it, and you can know it fully. You, the light, the sea, the sky, the land, all the same for that moment. It’s like walking through a door and discovering a room where the light lives. That’s not only why we’re all here, it’s how we’re all here. Although sometimes we forget.