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Make me the sea

October 18, 2012

When I was a kid, in the early ‘70s, the highways were filled with people thumbing a ride. My father, who had a hippie-side all his own, often stopped for hitchhikers and occasionally brought them home for a meal, or to spend the night.

Now, for the most part, hitchhiking is a thing of the past. We are too afraid to catch a ride with strangers or pick one up. But for a time in the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as during the Depression, it was commonplace. “The roads are swarming with kids,” my father liked to say.

I remember some of the people we stopped for—the stoned kid going to New Berlin, the Oswald Spangler fanatic and a whole group of rain-soaked Christian teenagers wrapped in blankets, who clamored into the back of our truck. And I have heard about others from my family, including a Native American man who was making his way out west to a reservation.

I don’t even think I was born when my father brought him to our house, but I heard often about my grandmother’s zany reaction to the whole thing. She happened to be staying with my parents at the time, recuperating from one of her frequent leg ulcers, and she took exception to our visitor; she was certain that he would scalp us in our beds.

Perhaps the most memorable hitchhiker was also one whom I never met, but who has remained with my spirit all these years. This particular traveler sang my father a song, or prayer, that he continued to sing and passed on to me. And, I will now pass it on to you. The lines are meant to be repeated. In my father’s version the words went like this: “I am a bubble, make me the sea, wave of the sea, go back to the sea.”

Last week, I watched the leaves fall from the trees outside my window. And, after so many years of thinking about and singing this song, it finally occurred to me to look it up. To my surprise, there were a number of websites devoted to it including one YouTube video of a boy chanting the lines repeatedly.

Most versions have these lyrics: “So do thou, my Lord. So do Thou. Thou and I never apart. Thou and I never apart. I am the bubble, make me the sea. Wave of the sea. Dissolve in the sea.” (Accompanying viewer comments range from “This is stupid,” to “This is beautiful.”)

The mantra is attributed to the Indian yogi and guru Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952), who is said to have contributed to the mainstream introduction of meditation and Kriya Yoga in the West through his book “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

It is a song that speaks to me not only of falling leaves or of union with God, but also the swinging door of isolation and connection that we all feel.