A Small Eternity

A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone.

—Isaac Watts, Hymn

When I was in my 20s, I’d look forward all year to the fall, when late September storms would kick up heavy seas along Long Island’s South Shore.  Most of the summer people would have left, and a few friends and I would have the whole ocean to ourselves to surf.

I’ll never forget one late September Saturday when my friend Dave Campagna and I drove to the jetties of the Shinnecock inlet just before dusk.  A soft offshore breeze was putting a majestic curling shape into the waves, and the fading sun was turning the water into dappled copper.

Dave had caught a wave and was making his way back out to “the break” just as I was paddling for a swell that I’d seen forming away offshore.  Just before I was about to commit myself to the wave, I hesitated because I was in a section that was going to break sharply and quite probably “wipe me out.”  But Dave called, “It’ll be the ride of your life — go for it!”

I did.

I gave one final paddle, scrambled to my feet and angled my board quickly to the left.  The wave was steep and my acceleration was breathtaking.  As I hurtled left, the wave crest curled over me and suddenly I was covered up in a strangely silent, tubular room, where the only sound was the soft hiss of my surfboard’s skeg.  I trailed my fingers in the waterwall all around me.  It felt like silk.  A circle of golden light glowed at the tunnel’s end.  Just as the wave began to collapse around me, I shot out from under it into the open water.  I had made it.  The ride of my life.

Later I asked Dave how long I had been “covered up.”  To my amazement, he told me, “No more than two seconds.”  It had seemed like a small eternity.

Well, I’m no longer in my twenties, and I no longer surf.  I’m a New Yorker now, and the pace can get pretty frantic for a fellow who used to idle away golden afternoons in the water off Long Island’s South Shore.  Yet whenever I hear complaining that there’s never enough time for a quiet period with God, or to spend on devotions, I remember that magic time — that small eternity of two seconds under the tight cathedral of that September wave.  And I know that, if I truly give myself over, even two seconds can make a lifetime difference.

Thank You, Lord, for the richness that can be found in even the shortest moment.

                                                                                                                                         ~~James McDermott

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