I am on a boat being pushed out to sea on the East coast of Bali. The wind is strong here, partly due to being in a bay and partly because it's winter in Australia, making the current somewhat choppy. But the cloudless blue sky promises a good snorkelling morning, even though I can imagine in these parts, close to the shore and the many 'jukung' boats anchored nearby, the corals are most likely denuded and lacking in variety.
Nevertheless, it's good to get away from the noises and the news that normally steal a big chunk of my attention. The thing about news is, its demand for constant newness renders it impermanent even as it is being generated. In the news business, human events, like human thoughts, are doomed to obsolescence and instant forgetfulness. Yesterday was a pie in the face story, today, the ambulatory bread man's musical chime, a while back something about a wig and a hotel chambermaid; no doubt tomorrow more scandalous, corrupt and criminal behaviours await. All making up the sorry tapestry of our human life. Which is essentially just a lot of noise. Noises that often make us feel significant, involved and part of this enormous world of information. But they are still noises all the same, without which we're hardly any poorer.
Nature however, reminds us of the existence of the Permanent. That is, if we bother to cease our navel-gazing for a second and actually look up and around us. There we will encounter an intelligence whose creative power goes back billions of years and at the same time whose every visible manifestation carries with it memories of the past.
Nature is the refuge I seek when the pettiness and shallowness of human concerns threaten to drag me down into the quicksand of useless thoughts. Nature gives us the true meaning of profundity, the real concept of vastness and a genuine display of patience. I feel this especially more so with the sea.
The first time I saw the sea I was already eight or nine years old. Though an avid traveller I must confess to being a late starter. As a child I used to suffer terribly from car sickness, which did not make me an attractive travelling companion, particularly to my impatient parents. Thus, my memories of childhood was waving good bye to the others as they packed merrily into the family Volkswagen beetle to go on yet another picnic, leaving me to amuse myself at home with my paper and crayons and wait until they came back with their stories.
I didn't know what possessed my parents to finally take me on holiday to the sea side. Perhaps they realised they could not keep me forever in the dark about how big the world was. Perhaps because it was the university faculty's outing and there were many obliging students at hand who could also help keep an eye on me so I would not be too much of a bother to them. In any case, there I was, a child among adults, on a bus heading towards Pangandaran, on the south coast of West Java.
Needless to say I was miserable throughout the journey and filled many plastic bags with the contents of my breakfast and lunch. I wished I had been left behind or dead; whichever was the less painful. What was worse, the whole bus seemed oblivious to my suffering, as they sang the entire trip away.
When the bus finally came to a stop, almost the whole day had gone. My father told me to get off the bus. I was drowsy from the many car sickness tablets that I took and my legs were unsteady from too much sitting down. My feet sank into something I had never felt before and for a moment I thought the ground had shifted beneath me. It was sand. Like an invalid I allowed myself to be led to the beach.
'This,' announced my father, as if a magician revealing his greatest trick, 'is the sea.'
I blinked my eyes, for the burnished sun was blinding. There before me, beneath a fiery ball of a sinking sun was something that I had never seen before, not even in the wildest of my dreams. It was vast, it was dark and deep, tinged with red here and there, the surface brilliant with dancing sparkles. It was solid and yet it wasn't. And there approaching the toes of my poor wobbly feet, were frothing foams that chased one another like children. Over and over again.
I was speechless. The fatigue and nausea of the miserable journey dissolved with every lapping of the water around my feet. I had never seen anything so huge, so alien and so dominating. Nor anything so beautiful. I was torn between fear and awe. And there was the sound so new to my ears. That of the rolling of the waves. It had a rhythm, like a pulsating heart. And it was incessant. Over and over again. Never ending.
I realised I was looking at something very old. And I knew that my life until then had been nothing. Had been small and insignificant. Like a grain of sand upon the shore that was as fine as my after bath talcum powder.
And until now, when the noise of life is too much for my ears, I seek out the sea. For it never fails to put everything in perspective.
(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)