When I turned 21 I was a junior at Western Washington State College in Bellingham. I was living in a dormitory and had many friends who got together to celebrate this momentous occasion with me. They somehow managed to bake a cake in the dorm’s tiny kitchenette, they secured a few select beverages, and they each brought me a gift of something they had created.
It’s true, none of us had much money in those days, and we certainly were limited in terms of our gift-buying opportunities. But I had requested that this birthday – my 21st – be commemorated creatively. I wanted my friends to make something out of the gifts of insight, receptivity, and wonder they each possessed.
There is one present among them which I still carry with me to this day – more than a few years later. One of my friends was a music major, and she took a poem I had hanging in my dorm room and set it music. We all trooped into the stairwell, where the acoustics were pretty amazing, and she brought along her guitar to accompany her as she gave me this gift of John Masefield’s poem, now become a song:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song – white sails shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day – white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife.
And all I ask is a merry yarn, from a laughing rover,
A quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
I carry that song with me to this day. And every time I stand looking out at the surf and the sand, I drag that present out and sing that song. It fills me with the beauty of its longing and it reminds me of the wonder of belonging. Way back in that dorm stairwell I knew I belonged. My friends’ gifts of creativity linked us together in ways that go far beyond anything we could have purchased. So that even when I sing the song today, I am reminded that I belong. I belong to the friends I make along the way; I belong to the ones I love and the ones who love me.
But more than that, I belong to the earth. I belong to the surf and the sand. I belong to the countless strangers I will never meet, those who share this earth and with whom I am connected in countless tiny ways. I belong to the Creation. And so do you.
What better reminder could there be – whether we are standing at the edge of the surf or in the midst of a vast desert plain? We belong. Thanks be to God! We belong.