Ebb and Flow

This morning I read an update from a friend about her life’s ebb and flow. As a girl who grew up–and ordered her young life–alongside the tidal patterns of Little Hunting Creek at the mouth of the Potomac River, the expression resonated with me.

But what is an ebb and flow? It’s “a recurrent or rhythmical pattern of coming and going or decline and regrowth.” Tidal bodies of water ebb and flow, as if God wanted to make sure we didn’t miss this metaphor for living.

When life ebbs, it recedes. Things seem dry and empty. God lays bare the matters of the heart like all things exposed at low tide. But here, the ebb fosters adaptation and strength. The ebbing tide pulls away toxins and pollutants.

When life flows again, the sense of flourishing returns. The tide flows back, and with it, new nutrients circulate.

As a girl, I learned to find the beauty in low tide. It kept me on the shore. My canoe couldn’t go anywhere. I learned patience. I learned to enjoy the growth I could now see that was once hidden underwater. I could track the footprints of foxes, raccoons, deer, and birds that walked the creek bed. You learn a different kind of seeing at low tide. You’re waiting, yes, but you’re also enjoying what you can only see in emptiness: turtle eggs, the beaver’s home, and the particular treasures of the creek bottom–like the fishing pole you lost at high tide.

But at high tide, I let myself loose. I paddled down unexplored paths, cutting into hydrilla and lily pads to find turtles and fat catfish. I fished and netted and went anywhere I pleased. But soon, the tide forced me home to avoid my green canoe sinking into the muck of Little Hunting Creek. More than once my father had to drag my sister and me back to shore when we stayed out too long.

Both the ebb and the flow: that’s a beautiful life.

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