Franz Mesmer was an 18th century German doctor who theorized that there was a natural attraction or energy transfer between all things animate and inanimate. He called it “animal magnetism;” and whether you are an asteroid, aardvark or Adam’s apple, according to the good doctor, you have some kind of magnetic current that connects you to everything else.
Though since that time, scientists have rather poo-pooed his theory, you got to admit, he’d be a great fit in Asheville. But the good news is that in the process of his study, the good doctor made a name for himself, so to speak. “Mesmerized” means to be attracted. Fascinated. Enthralled. Awestruck. Captivated. Not a bad legacy, as names go. Was it Dr. Dung who studied a certain beetle? Or the Italian doctor, Marcus Mucous, who discovered the common cold? Or even the Scottish physician, Gilroy O’Smegma, who… well, you get the picture.
Be that as it may, we all know what it means to be mesmerized – by a person, a book, a sunrise, a song. We’ve been mesmerized by bedtime stories, movies, rock concerts, a memory or the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. Come on now… If you’re not mesmerized by the smell of bacon, you’ve got issues.
Now, many, many folks are attracted to the ocean. Whether to swim, to sun, to fish, to read, to vacation, to live. Ocean-front property can sell for ten times more than a house just a few blocks inland. Perhaps it’s just supply and demand. There’s not that much coastline in the world, for example; but there’s a whole heap of, say… Nebraska.
The point is, oceans are mesmerizing. Enchanting. Alluring. Watching waves roll in and champagne the shore can convince even a hard-ass Wall Street tycoon (as Tom Robbins puts it) to trade his cow for a handful of magic beans. Hearing nearby waves splash, sploosh and crash as you fall asleep can set your mind’s stage for dreams in ways that a Broadway set designer would kill for. Like star-gazing, ocean-gazing unlocks the time-closed door of your brain and leads you to dance in Infinity Hall where anything is possible.
Nor are oceans picky about whom they attract. Children create sandcastles at the shoreline. Pre-teens body-surf in the shallow waves. Teens flirt and skinny dip in the deeper waves. Young adults continue the teen tradition but then get a room. Middle-aged adults watch their kids make sandcastles and hope their teens can’t get a room. Old adults do their best to be snowbirds. And rich old adults blow their kids’ inheritance to have an ocean-side retirement.
So what is it about an ocean that mesmerizes us? Is it that, like the earth’s surface, we’re mostly water, so oceans feel like family? Is it that for most of us, oceans symbolize vacation time? Does the ocean trigger our glands to pump primeval juices through our veins? Or could it be the waves?
You got your light waves, sound waves, radio waves, heat waves and microwaves. You got mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves. You can wave your hand, wave your hair, wave a fan or do the wave at a ball game. A physicist will tell you that waves are in the business of transferring energy from one particle to another; and everything – every zit, zipper and zebra – is affected by waves one way or another. In a very real sense, we are made-of and fashioned-by waves. And, of course, oceans are all about waves.
And maybe that’s it. Maybe watching the waves, hearing the waves, riding the waves, being buffeted in the waves or listening to Jimmy Buffet by the waves – whenever we’re knee-deep in the water somewhere reminds us that we live in a perpetually wavy universe; and learning to flow with and ride those waves just might be one of them there secrets of a happy life.
*Title borrowed from a Jimmy Buffet tune. Highly recommended!