boats against the current


I’m sitting at my desk looking at the sunset over the marsh through the window in my office, which is unusual for me on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m usually at the restaurant. Life for me, right now, divides into three nights at church and three nights at the Red Lion Inn, and some of all seven days doing one or the other. I’m home tonight because this cold has gotten the best of me and I’m out of gas. I’ve been sick more this winter than I have in several years, which I take as a signal that something in this schedule I’m keeping needs to change. Knowing that it is most important to make a move toward something rather than just away from something, I’m waiting and praying about what comes next. But, for these days, this is what life looks like.

When I got to the restaurant on Friday, Robert, the chef, told me to come up with a new soup since we sold out of the chili. Still in a bit of a southwestern vibe, I found some black beans in the storeroom and decided to see what I could do with them. What I came up with was a Tequila and Lime Black Bean Soup; I wish I thought then to call it Soup From Stock, but then again puns are mostly lost on pubsters. It turned out to taste pretty good. I thought it was a little bitter at first, thanks to the lime, so I added some chopped chorizo and the meat balanced it out nicely.

It strikes me, as I try to figure out what happens next in my life, that I’m working on much the same kind of recipe. I’ve got to figure out what to make of what I have.

For some reason – and I think it’s the sunset tonight – my mind went to the last page of The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite novels:

And I I sat there brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come along way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter. . . . And one fine morning —-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I was reading Gatsby with my tenth graders at Winchester High the June we moved into our house here in Marshfield, which would qualify as part of the vast obscurity beyond the city. After a day of unpacking boxes, Ginger and I walked the 600 feet to the end of our street to stand on the beach and look eastward across Cape Cod Bay. As we stood there, I saw a blinking light – a green light –out in the ocean.

“Look,” I said, “it’s Daisy’s house.”

We moved to Marshfield chasing dreams: Ginger wanted to be a senior pastor; I wanted to write. By September, I was sinking deep into my depression and couldn’t do much of anything but walk down the beach. I started picking up pieces of sea glass – broken glass, smoothed and polished by the water that washes up with the tide. “Tiny bits of nevermind” I called them in a poem I wrote. As the pile of colored pieces grew, I taught myself how to make earrings out of them and made jewelry for Ginger.

One of my persistent ideas as I walked down the beach was what I saw as I walked was determined by the line I chose to follow. If I stayed up close to the sea wall, I would see certain rocks and shells; if I walked closer to the water, I would see other things. When I decided where I was going to walk, I was also deciding where I was not going to walk. There was no way to see it all. Being a person who has never liked to feel as though I was missing something, that realization was quite humbling.

I realize, sitting here at the window, that many nights have passed since I last saw the green light. I haven’t even looked for sea glass in a long time; my walks on the beach have been spent watching schnauzers bounce like bunnies as they run believing they really can catch the sea gulls. The line I’ve taken in my life has left me more aware of feeling beaten by the currents than captured by the possibilities. It’s not so much needing new ingredients as it is having the imagination to come up with a different recipe.

It’s getting dark now, at least at street level. The sky above is azure blue, a sheltering sky that will soon give way to starlight, as Orion and his friends begin their nighty sojourn over our house. And soon, the green light will start shining on the bay.

I know, even though I can’t see it from here.


  1. i’m getting bogged down in life, these days…and i feel as though i’ve no choice in the direction i walk. i’m dragged along by responsibilities and requests…thanks for sharing your tale of the seasons of walking that we all share. this was a beautiful post.
    hope you feel better soon.
    can i feed my kids this soup without fear of intoxication from the tequila? recipe looks great…
    be blessed – and thanks for the prayers you have offered on my behalf. it is His grace that holds me.

  2. You sound like the sea glass–broken, ready to be used in a new way. I’m curious what God will make of you…(I’m sure you are too!). And I like the “tiny bits of nevermind.”

  3. What a find (your blog). I write this off the coast of Florida where I must leave today to return to the land of gray, icy skies and lobbyists. But thanks for your writing. I agree with Africakid in that you are a bit like the glass but something new and colorful is coming. You are a gifted soul.

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