We are waves on the ocean -- so goes an old metaphor. Ephemeral, yes! But is there any more to the metaphor?
A wave is a movement of water. Less than the water, perhaps -- the water was there before the wave rose and is still there after it subsides. More than an abstract imagining, though -- like sound and light waves, the waves on the water can be represented through mathematical abstraction, but you can’t surf on a mathematical wave. Not quite matter, not quite an abstraction, a wave is a form, a shape the matter takes for a brief time. The water makes a wave sensible, but the wave is something other than the water, something not quite sensible.
We are like waves. We are a form that matter takes for a brief time. We are not the matter – the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and various minerals that comprise a body. The ashes of a cremated person have no more resemblance to that person than has any other soil of the earth. Nor are we but an abstraction, a sign pointing toward something else. Like the wave of the ocean, matter makes us sensible, but what we really are is not quite sensible. Upon death, the material corpse, like the water that comprises a wave, remains; but we are gone, as the wave is gone when it crashes upon the shore.
Perpetually the waves arise and travel toward the shore; perpetually life arises and travels towards death. In essence each wave, each life, the same; in particulars each different.
Old Plato might have said that each wave is a brief, not quite real, appearance of the Great Wave, the eternal archetypical wave -- and each person, a brief but not quite real appearance of the Great Person, the eternal, archetypical person. Is there any truth to what Plato says? Who knows, though it seems worthy of a moment's contemplation on our journey towards the shore.
For we are the form that can contemplate forms. We are the form that can sit by the ocean and imagine our self a wave. And we are the form that can surf – that can catch the wave and a give it a ride, balanced and attentive; like one metaphor riding another.