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Whale watching

The second J and I walked into our apartment for the first time and saw the huge south-facing windows, we were pretty much sold. The kicker was that there is one pane of glass facing west, directly towards the ocean. It took me no time at all to establish a new habit (at the expense of a few extra minutes added to my already pokey morning routine): standing at that window, sipping coffee, watching the waves. Observing.

The waves are constant. Even on days there is no swell, the water pushes towards shore, foaming just enough to mimic a wave. The waves bring out the surfers, who run barefoot across the Great Highway in their wetsuits, surfboards under their arms, stopping on the beach just long enough to swing their arms in giant circles a few times and attach their leashes to their legs before letting themselves be swallowed into the churning sea.

Also constant are the dog owners and second-shift runners. The dog owners throw balls and let their dogs chase seagulls, with the crashing waves a steady backdrop. The first-shift runners were out at 6:30; at 7:30, those without 9:00am workdays are trotting along the boardwalk or along the beach, if the tide is low enough to expose the hard-packed sand.

These days, also constant have been whales, making their way from Baja to Alaska for the summer. Their morning passing times aren’t so regular, but at 7:30pm like clockwork, they pass under the setting sun, usually with a flock of pelicans or seagulls close behind, chasing the same fish. I can spot the water they spout into the air, miniature geysers that spray high enough to be seen. I then grab the binoculars, which allow me to see their humped backs, or maybe even a tail, as they swim along. They’re often in pairs, with the mother keeping herself between her calf and the open sea. After a few spouts, they descend back into the cold, dark water, holding their breaths until the next show at the surface.

The only reason I can see any of this, especially the whales, is because my fourth-floor window gives me a vantage point above the waves. As I feel myself become giddy over spotting a whale, as I watch them through the binoculars, these massive mammals that just swim through my front yard, I often think of the people out on the beach. They are, in space, so much closer to the whales than I am. They don’t have a pair of lenses and a pane of glass separating them from these creatures. And yet, my perspective allows me to see them even though I’m farther away. The beach-goers are obvious to these giants just meters away.

Their reality isn’t somehow less real because they can’t see the whales. From their level, they can see crabs skittering across the sand, they can collect washed up sand dollars and smooth rocks, they can breathe the salty ocean air and feel the breeze upon their faces, they can hear the crashing waves and the barking dogs. And yet their reality isn’t more real than mine, watching whales from my window in my pajamas.

How often do we forget that our unique perspective is but one way of looking at the world? That others on this planet are experiencing a reality that may seem totally different, maybe even contradictory, to what we experience. How often do we fight and argue that we’re right and they’re wrong?

What if we’re all right? What if we strive to not feel threatened by the way someone else sees something? What if we seek to understand why they’re seeing something different? What if we can appreciate that their perspective shows us something that’s true that we just can’t see? What if they’re trying to show us the whales, but we just refuse to believe them, because we can’t see high enough above the waves to see for ourselves? And, what if we didn’t judge or categorize someone based on their different perspective?

The beach is more than just the whales or just the sand. Only by understanding that both are there can we get a sense of what the whole ocean is. Even if we can’t see both at the same time.

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