I only left the group around the barbecues to get away from the smoke. I'd been queueing for ages, right next to one of the disposable charcoal trays, and getting gassed. I wandered off down the beach, not really planning to go very far, but the tide was out - a long, long way out - and I just kept plodding. Don't really know why.
Quarter of a mile later, I finally came to a standstill a few yards into the water. Nothing left, just the ripples on the water, and the sky coloured by the sunset behind me. No sounds worth speaking of.
And then I realised what I was looking at. You might not think a simple, flat line could be so profound, but I realised that when you live inland, you never really see the horizon. It's always hidden behind buildings, fences, cars, wheelie bins, blah de blah de blah. So much clutter obscuring the view. But out here in the edge of the tide, there was nothing left to get in the way, and the crystal-sharp boundary between the end of the world and the start of the sky stretched on and on and on all around.
And then came one of those odd little moments, when some little snippet of fiction takes on a whole new layer of meaning which the original writers probably never intended.
I've never played Portal, but I've heard the end credits song Still Alive a few times, and as I stood in the shallows at Littlehampton the line came to mind, "Now these points of data make a beautiful line". So? Life, as perceived from this side of eternity, often seems to consist of a long and convoluted string of random events - points of data, one could call them. Meanwhile, in another train of thought, it is an important component of Christian belief that God has a plan for the whole of history - past, present and future, and that when we reach heaven (i.e. upon arrival on the other side of death) our own place in this plan will become clear, if we hadn't realised it already.
And then, the two ideas came together, and I realised that this little snippet of fiction is actually a near-perfect parallel to what I expected death to be like. All the clutter will fall away from view, the horizon will be cleared, and my points of data - currently so strange and incomprehensible - will form a beautiful line, just like the song says, and I will be able to understand what I was actually doing on this planet for all of these years.
This new clarity came a few days after I had sat on a pile of wood chippings back at the campsite late in the evening, while everyone else was in the barn, talking, drinking, playing games. I had sat on the top of the pile, stared up at the majesty of the clear sky, and asked what I was here for. Then, on the thin end of the tide at Littlehampton, I was shown something amounting to an answer: "It's not time for you to know yet. But there will be light and clarity in the end."
In a way, I'm rather looking forward to being dead. Not to dying, mind you - I've never coped well with pain, and I'm happy to keep putting off the process of death for the time being. But as for what comes beyond? In another snippet of fiction, in The Return of the King, Gandalf describes death to Pippin during the siege of Minas Tirith, and says something about "white shores, and a swift sunrise". And there I had it, painted for me in the water and the air: a foretaste of the light, beauty and clarity that will follow hard on the heels of my last mortal breath. And there, enthroned above the circle of the earth, I will be able to look on the face of God. Not because I am good enough for him - far from it, so very, very far from it - but because he has chosen to pay my debt for me and forgive me everything. I will be able to stand before his radiant purity, clothed in his grace, and belong.
And then, I doubt I will ever want to move again.
I can't show you a photo of myself standing in the waves that night, because there was nobody else there to hold the camera. And even if there had been, the picture wouldn't fill the purpose anyway, because my outside shell has never even begun to approach the profundity and beauty to which my soul aspires. For once in my largely vision-orientated life, I find words are the better medium.
I came within inches of death later that night. But it was not my time, and I was left to live again, to find more points of data to add to the eventual line.
I've felt a little hollow in the two days since coming home from Root Hill, and now I've realised what's wrong with me: what I'm missing is the sense of engagement with reality which I felt during those nine days in the field on the other side of Surrey. I'm back at home, back within earshot of two constantly-grumbling smaller siblings, back in the banal rut of day-to-day existence, back with the nagging feeling that I ought to be doing something that I'm currently not doing, but not having a clue what that something might be.
But I intend to remember that horizon, and to find out what that something is that I need to do.
Don't expect everything I post on here to be all profound and angsty. It almost definitely won't be. I often resort to flippancy, mainly as a survival mechanism, and a lot of that will probably emerge here.
But there you have it. That evening in the fringes of the sea functioned, ironically, as a sort of new dawn in terms of my perception of the world, and now I need to go away and make something of the new day.
I shall start by throwing away some of the clutter from my cupboards, my desk and - I hope - my brain.
Watch this space.
- The Colclough