Jewish World Review May 16, 2000 / 11 Iyar, 5760
The truest things in
life require not a
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
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
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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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