“And all you can hear is the sound of your own heart
And all you can feel is your lungs flood and the blood course
But oh I can see five hundred years dead set ahead of me
Five hundred behind, a thousand years in perfect symmetry”
Los Campesinos – The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future
The picture below was taken ten days years ago today. It shows me, looking out to sea on the coast of an island, off the coast of a larger island, off the coast of a much larger island, on the other side of the world. I felt, and was, almost as far away from home as I could possibly be.
It had a big few months for me. As I approached the end of my twenties, I started to pull myself from the rut my life had become. After many years of drifting aimlessly, I had found from somewhere the belief that my life was worth making something of. I had realised that I didn’t have to stay forever in the same unloved job and gone out and got a better one, and begun making other plans, including a month long trip to Australia.
Now for many people, more experienced travelers than I, this undoubtedly doesn’t seem a big deal, Backpacking 101 in fact, the kind of thing that many people do as soon as they leave school or university. But for me this was a big trip, it was important. Travelling alone, especially overseas had always made me anxious, and an earlier attempt to do some backpacking around Europe had swiftly been abandoned.
I attended a friends’ wedding the weekend I left for Australia, the first of my friendship group to get married. It was a wonderful day that in itself seemed to signify that my life was changing, I was starting to become an adult, not that strange in-between state that my twenties had been. That Sunday, hungover and bleary-eyed, I boarded a plane at Heathrow, I alighted, less hungover but even blearier, in a Sydney where it was somehow Tuesday already, annoying the morning commuters with my bulky backpack.
What I enjoyed most about this trip was the sense of freedom. Far away from the few responsibilities that I had, I could do whatever I wished. On I traveled to Tasmania, then to Maria Island, a national park off Tasmania’s coast with no permanent inhabitants. I realised that the freedom I felt here was not the temporary freedom of a holiday, but something permanent and real. The constraints I had felt throughout my life were illusory, I had placed them on myself through a lack of confidence and a lack of imagination. I was in the privileged position to make of my life what I wanted, and I’d had to travel as far away from my normal life as possible to realise this.
I sat on the Painted Rocks, stared out to sea and thought of the future. I still knew not what it contained, but the possibilities now seemed infinite.
Two months later: a different beach. A trip to Cornwall with friends had led to a late night, and as night threatened to become morning I suddenly wanted nothing more than to watch the sun rise from the beach. In retrospect, scrambling down to an isolated cove in the half-light whilst half-cut probably isn’t that wise a move, but it is what I did. I sat and stared out to sea and once again thought of the future, but the future I imagined was very different from the future I had imagined on the other side of the world.
In the intervening time I had met the woman who would become my wife, and that had changed everything. I still could not picture the future precisely, but some lines had begun to be drawn and that picture included her always. Perhaps for the first time in my life the future seemed to be an entirely wonderful and exciting thing.
The same sea,
Two different futures.
By the time I heard the Los Campesinos song this piece is named after, we were living together in a city by the sea. I started taking it for granted perhaps, occasionally being surprised by its’ vastness as it caught my eye whilst I wandered into town. I still thought of the future often of course, even if I wasn’t gazing out to sea whilst I did it, but also concentrating on building that future, rather than just letting it happen to me.
Now ten years on, I’m a husband and father of two young children, with a life busier than ever before. There isn’t so much time to sit and ponder the future, but when I do it is both thrilling and terrifying. I’m an optimist of sorts, and perhaps some level of optimism is necessary to cope with parenthood. I believe things get better more than they get worse, but, thinking of the current political and environmental situations it’s hard not to be scared by the future our children may inherit.
We live far from the sea now, but sometimes I still want to escape the rush of life, to spend 5 minutes alone on a deserted beach and think of the future once more. To remind myself on those days when it does scare me, of the many glorious possibilities my future may contain and the wonderful people I will share it with.
I’d like to think my wife and I will live by the sea again some day, and sit looking out to sea together, even though there may be more past than future to think of by then. In more fanciful moments, I think it may be a fine way for our story to end, when our lives reach the moment of no future at all. Sat together on a deserted beach, just the sound of the waves and the sound of ourselves, closing our eyes and letting the waves wash over us, drifting out to that eternal sea.