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Jewish World Review May 16, 2000 / 11 Iyar, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The truest things in life require not a single word -- LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. By this time next year there will be a new president of the United States. The newspapers, airwaves and computer screens of the world are filled with details of the campaign for that office; those details reach citizens everywhere, including here on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

I watch the water. I have been coming here since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, when my parents would bring me as a child. I have been here during most election springs since. All the analysis, all the studied perspective on all the campaigns ... and the truest perspective, I have learned, can be found in the waters of the Gulf. It arrives without the utterance of a single word.

When John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were competing for the presidency, most news reached people here via the daily paper printed in the nearest city-- the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Television was just becoming a real force; its capacity for constant live coverage was not developed, so for the day-to-day thrusts and parries of the campaign, the ink-on-newsprint reports of the political writers was the preferred source. Readers would sit by the water and catch up on what the candidates had said and done the day before. The Gulf rolled in and out.

As the years passed, the names of the candidates yearning for the White House changed, the issues shifted-- and so did the means by which the campaign news was delivered. Television taught itself how to be everywhere at once; the words and visual images of the candidates entered the homes along this strip of sand soon after the candidates spoke those words. Then came the growth of cable-- entire channels were devoted to news, the people who wanted to follow the campaigns didn't need to wait until dinnertime to find out. Between the last presidential election in 1996 and this 2000 election year, the laptop revolution has been so complete that men and women now plug their computers into their phones, dial up their favorite newspapers and choose exactly what political information they want to absorb. In a way, it's a return to the days of Eisenhower-- reading the campaign news close to the Gulf.

Only the Gulf has been constant. All the things that seem so urgent on a given day-- what one candidate has said about the other, what position on a certain political issue has caused a controversy, what some polltaker somewhere says some blip in public opinion means-- all of that, which dominates the national discussion for 12 hours or so, goes away. As do the officeseekers and officeholders themselves. Eisenhower, gone; Kennedy, gone; Nixon, gone; Lyndon Johnson, gone; Hubert Humphrey, gone; Ronald Reagan....

I walk for miles by the Gulf every day. Always I go just after the sun has come up; in recent years I have walked at midnight, too, often the only person out on the edge of the key. The Gulf has become a companion. In the morning I look at the sun graze its surface, during storms I watch its angry swell, on nights lit by a full moon I see its waters turn into liquid art, as stunning as anything in any museum anywhere. The Gulf has no idea I have ever been here; it has no idea that any of us exist. We live our lives-- we pursue our ambitions, we worry about matters that turn out to be inconsequential, we rejoice in victories that are transitory at best....

The Gulf rolls in, the Gulf rolls out, and its lesson is that life will always happen at its own pace, and that all the things we do in our effort to control history-- the large-scale history the presidential candidates chase after, the lower-case history the rest of us seek in our daily private lives-- all of our efforts, we learn soon enough, are small in the face of the matters we can never change. So many words by so many candidates, over all these years, delivered onto this key, delivered everywhere, and the only thing that has not gone away, the only thing that has not been rendered impermanent, is the Gulf.

All that lasts is that which never speaks a sound, which never has a thought. A year from now a new person will be the chief executive of this country, and by that time other men and women will be plotting how to unseat him before four more years have passed. The news will be speeded down here-- undoubtedly via communication methods we are not yet aware of-- and, for a day or so, people will talk about that news and consider it to be important. The Gulf will ebb; the Gulf will flow. It will sing its endless song, the only song that seems to make eternal sense. The song sounds especially beautiful in the dark.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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