Rising Tide

It's 5.00 in the morning.
The sun is tinting the sky, the sea is bathwater warm.
It's a perfect morning, the coast of Sicily is Bond-film beautiful and the shoreline, devoid of basking tourists, is timeless, ethereal and all mine.
The Mediterranean  has for generations been synonymous with escape; a place to leave behind the cares and worries of our normal lives.
Now, for thousands of people on its southern shores, that description has taken on an altogether darker and more desperate meaning. 

I wade out into the dark water with a handful of votive lights, a lighter and a benevolent attitude.
I was hoping to do something worthwhile, profound but aesthetically pleasing; somewhere between a protest and a postcard.

And then it all goes wrong.

This was supposed to be a modest, respectful moment to acknowledge the people who try to cross this great blue barrier to a better life. 
Robbed by the unscrupulous in their own countries and resented by the inhabitants of their destination, they risk their lives for a glimpse 
of all that we are fortunate enough to take for granted.

And sometimes the sea takes them.

From the comfort of a lucky birthplace, we look on and try to make sense of it.
Would I gamble my family's lives for a place at the wealthy man's table if I was in their situation?
All I know is their dead wash up near to here sometimes.

What I thought was seaweed turns out to be jellyfish.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of them, attracted by the pinpricks of light, each sting like the touch of a hot iron.
I scramble back to a tideline rimmed with their stranded hordes, pulsing like tiny aliens on the shingle.

The tea lights cluster in the swell, attracting plastic bottles, paper and nameless flotsam as they drift.
My image of a flotilla of carefully choreographed candles dancing on a pristine sea, lit by the rays of the dawn is disappearing fast.

Slowly they join the tidemark of rubbish that the sea coughs up each morning, the unsightly evidence of our disregard.

I photograph it anyway, and there it is; the metaphor has beached itself at my swollen, stinging feet.

Every morning, before the sun worshippers arrive, the beach is swept of all the ugliness and unpleasantness that no one wants to see.

No one need concern themselves with the sea's darker harvest, let alone the Evian bottles and plastic shoes that cluster at its fringes.

I come away sore, disconcerted and slightly ashamed.
Floating a few tea lights on the morning tide isn't going to change a damned thing, or begin to address the enormity of lives lost, 
but doing nothing at all seems worse.

The sea is a dangerous place, even if you're only in it up to your knees.