Moments before sunrise, the beach is a low-tide swathe of silvery sand, cold and firm underfoot. The water is flat and grey, skimmed by seagulls and ploughed, with miniscule splashes, by two stalwarts taking their morning exercise. I breathe deeply, enjoying the freedom of this place that has always restored and calmed me.
There are no man-made sounds; only the slap of small waves and the ring of fresh, salty air. In the lavender sky, a long vapour trail arcs to merge with a mass of low-lying cloud. There is a sudden infusion of colour as the earth tilts another fraction towards the sun. Saffron, salmon and gold pour over the horizon, bathing the clouds in a rich, dark glow. For a few heartbeats a new landscape is revealed; a cosmic spotlight shines on an entire realm beyond this earth. The vapour road looks firm and real, tucked between the folds of a substantial heavenly hillside then tapering from view.
It’s so beautiful and unexpected; it’s as if a gap between two worlds has opened, offering the briefest window of opportunity. I think of my father, trapped in an aged, failing body. He loved this beach as much as I do; loved to body surf and be buffeted by the waves. And the artist in him would love the wild, awakened sky and want to paint it.
In my mind’s eye I set him on that road and immediately the thought takes form: he’s 30, maybe 40 years younger, wearing baggy shorts, a cotton shirt and floppy sunhat, well-worn mountain boots and woolly socks pulled up over strong calves. I see him clearly, striding out, staff in hand. He looks back, smiling, and I can’t help myself: I wave – laughing and crying at the same time – and wish him well.
Death comes sooner than expected on a chilly day in July. Three hours after his passing, a Southern Right, ahead of schedule, sails in the bay. It holds its V-shaped fluke above the water until it has our full attention. And so we see the Orca, bursting with energy and life, breach behind it once, twice, three times, before chasing away to the deep.
The concept of a ‘miracle’ depends on skepticism. After all, if everyone acknowledged them they would cease to be miraculous and become wondrously commonplace instead. So what is a miracle to me? Just this: The awareness of and willingness to receive a personal gift of grace.
17 November, 2009