"All waves speak, but they speak in tongues, and we can't interpret their speech. That's probably because it's too simple, like God's. Maybe all they're saying is I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU until the end of time. Like God...." -Peter Kreeft
I am writing this from a hotel next to the Pacific Ocean. The view is spectacular, and I can't stop looking at (and listening to) the dynamic coastline... where the liquid of the vast blue sea meets the solid of the vast brownish land. The intersection is vivid white, an always changing line of waves breaking unpredictably against the steady shoreline. There are crowds on the beach, swimming and surfing and simply watching the waves. Cheerful shouts of families fill the salty air. This same scene happens on almost every coast, every day, around the world. Why?
"The coast is beautiful" is something existentially true and intuitively felt among all humans. We are drawn to the places where land meets sea, where water meets rock; two very different things, coming together, producing an aesthetic pleasure and a life-giving good. We are attracted to this because it is a familiar cosmic reality. We find comfort and resonance in the complementarity of nature because this is how humans are wired too. Men and women are beautifully different, but made for each other. And just as there is beauty and life where the water and rock come together, so is there beauty and life where woman and man come together.
The most profound articulation of this I've seen is the Vatican's excellent Humanum video series, particularly in episode 3, "Understanding Man & Woman." In this beautifully made, 17-minute video, philosopher Peter Kreeft discusses the intersection of rock ("one of the most masculine things in the world") and sea ("one of the most feminine things in the world"):
"They're deeply satisfying together, and we can't quite analyze why we find that satisfaction and that peace and that sense of rightness... The shore is the most popular place on earth. Waterfront property is the most expensive property anywhere in the world. Because that's where the sea and the land meet. That's where man and woman meet. The land without the sea is kind of boring, desert. The sea without the land is kind of boring. When are we going to land the ship? But the place where they meet, that's where all the action is. And that's where we want to be."
I think Kreeft is on to something. Humans don't have to be told that male and female are different and that they are made to go together. The rightness of this is self-evident, declared in the very basic elements of the natural world: water and land.
We can't live without these elements. They are the fundamental ingredients of life. We need foundations upon which to build our homes, but we also need sources of water. Cities spring up where land and water meet, on the banks of rivers and lakes and oceans. In a desert of brown nothingness, if there is a river or a lake you can bet there is greenery. There are trees and animals. Where water meets rock, there is life.
But there is also change. Water and rock together are nature's most beautiful artistic pairing. Water can erode and mold and smooth rock. Rock can guide and contain and filter water. Their wrestles are necessary and good, and they create beauty. What is the Grand Canyon? Rock carved by water. What are waterfalls? Water traversing rock. Whether glaciers or cascades, snow-capped mountains or geysers, the places where water and rock meet are where painters and photographers and tourists and lovers flock.
Certainly there is also beauty in the sea alone, and in the land alone. We can gaze into the ocean and marvel at its power and depths, or ponder a vast desert and see its innate beauty. But where the two come together, as Kreeft says, "that's where all the action is."
And so we flock to Big Sur, Pebble Beach, the French Riviera, the fjords of Norway, the Great Lakes, Iguazu Falls, the Florida Everglades, Cape Cod, the Snake River. Throngs are converging on Yosemite National Park this summer in California. Why? Because the record snowfall in the Sierras means the park's waterfalls are unusually spectacular. Humans of all walks of life recognize the beauty of mountain water rushing over steep granite cliffs. Water and rock.
But it's not just for aesthetic reasons that we gravitate toward two complimentary things coming together. As we see in the case of water and land, it is also a combination that creates life. These two different things, water and dirt, come together and, with the help of sun and seed, produce life. Photosynthesis. Dirt plus dirt cannot bring a seed to life. Water plus water cannot do it. But together they create conditions for the making of new life.
There are many confusing ideologies about gender being propagated today, including the notions that men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable, and that gender difference is nothing more than a cultural construct. But on the biological level alone, male is no more interchangeable with female than water is interchangeable with rock or night interchangeable with day. And try as we might, humans will never be able to create new life without the two complementary elements of one male + one female, just as a field of seeds in land will never sprout crops if only more land, but never water, falls on the ground.
The complementarity of gender is not a menace or a construct, but—like the coastlines and lakefronts and river trails we love—an irresistible source of beauty and life.