Slack Tide


Life is a blur of information, obligations and commitments. So what else is new? But at midnight on New Year’s—as at no other moment of the year—both hands of the clock pause and join to point heavenward in the classic pose of prayer.

In oceanography, Slack Tide is the imperceptible, discreet moment when the tide pauses—and turns. Midnight is the Slack Tide of our day, New Year’s the Slack Tide of the year. And each of us has one particular day that is the Slack Tide of our life.

When we reach our forties, some corporeal switch turns on and reverses our body’s growth. It’s the Slack Tide of our life, when old age commences, no matter what we do to avoid it. Hair whitens. Skin sags. Libido begs off. We start shutting down, cell by cell, in our inevitable descent toward decay.

When we’re twenty we look out over the next forty years and think, "I can make anything of my life that I want." We expect the unexpected. We anticipate that anything can happen. But, come forty, we pretty much know what the remnant is. At forty, the mystery is gone. Sad to say, life mandates mystery if it’s to be fully lived.

Our personal Slack Day ought to be observed, don’t you think, with an event of some formality, like a birthday. A party is in order. Gifts from friends and singing around a cake. One’s Slack Day is much more important than one’s birthday. A birthday is backward-looking. Slack Day forces our focus forward, even if it is to face our decline.

It’s when we can for a moment avoid the stresses of information, obligations and commitments that we can summon up a kind of Slack Tide for our psyche. There is a pause. Everything hesitates. We can take a deep breath.

Like a mini-New Year, we can free ourselves for a slice of time so we can think about ourselves and our desire to be better, to be all we believe we can be or want to be. To make resolutions.

This is the idea of going on a spiritual “retreat.” Retreats are an integral part of many Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Sufi faith traditions. A “rainy season” retreat, for example, was established by the founder of Buddhism. Jesus set a model by fasting in the desert for forty solitary days. Lent, Passover, Ramadan—all are times when practitioners enter a calming state of separation, of repentance, resolution and renewal.

There are nearly 1,000 retreat centers in North America alone. It seems that the more wired we are, the more appealing being “unwired” becomes.

It’s fitting for us in the Northern Hemisphere that New Year’s comes during winter. Because even with its storms, winter is the quietest time of year. There is nothing like the quiet after a storm. Here on outer Cape Cod, I can stand out on my deck and hear only the wind. I can walk on the beach and see only shore birds and seals.

It is in such stillness that we hear what God hears.

(The image is Slack Tide by Harry Frank)

Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at:

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