Onward to the Beach

Hello interweb.  I've been on a bit of a hiatus this week.  I just got home from a week in Florida with my family, and I'm still settling into the feeling of home, the familiar, well-worn texture of the life we've created.  Sheets that my skin remembers, cabinets whose contents I know without looking, clothes hung in their rightful spots instead of rolled up small as can be in a suitcase on someone else's floor.

As glad as this reluctant traveler is to be home, I already miss it.  I miss the family in a way that's so strong and so fresh that I am quite certain I'm not ready to be pithy about it.  And I miss the beach, the sand and salty air.  Though we managed to arrange our holiday in perfect conjunction with Hurricane Debby, we were still beach babies whenever possible.  Through gloom and rain, we watched the sky for any moment of calm, any flash of sun, any break in the clouds.  And when the weather cleared, we were united in purpose.  Onward to the beach.

We carried our bags across the sand, flung open folding beach chairs, and slipped off our sandals to feel the sand in our toes.  The boys know the sunscreen ritual by now, and both would stand side by side, waiting to be coated, with their arms out like two lower case t's while I marveled how small their backs and arms were, measuring the width of my hands against their shoulders and rib cages.

And then we made our way to the place where ocean touches land, that playful, flirtatious boundary, always changing, always chasing you and retreating again.  We let it claim our feet first, bracing for the cold of the California coast and laughing at its unexpected warmth.  I tell you, watching your children experience the ocean is both unspeakably novel and reassuringly age-old. You become a child again watching them, remembering your first memories of the beach.

Lincoln liked to run along the water's edge.  He would step into the surf, then retreat and let it chase him up the beach, screaming with anticipation for the moment it would catch him.  I shadowed him, knowing at any moment he might call, "Ma! Halp may," and I would be there to grab his hand and save him from the surf.

Nico was braver.  He wanted to go out the place where waves lifted you up and tried to pull you under.  He wanted to stand in chest high water knowing the waves would knock him off his feet.  Sam loved to take him out in the "deep" water and let him spread his little proverbial wings.  I would shadow Lincoln, walking up and down the beach along the water's edge, and watch Sam and Nico bob out in there in the waves.  Turning my gaze wider, I would see my brothers and my father out in even deeper water, riding waves in and trudging right back out to the action.

All along the length of the beach, all that was in my view, I saw the same story played out.  Sun seekers sprawled out behind me on the sand or hid beneath umbrellas with books in their hands.  Those closer to the action gave their feet or calves or knees to the water.  The adventurous sort plunged in waist or shoulder high and fought the waves as if in great battle.  And yet, in truth, we were all just clinging to the shore, barely making a dent in even the visible expanse of water.  Like ants by a pool of spilled juice, we mucked about at the edges, lapping up what we could and yet ill-suited for the real expanse of the stuff.

And yet, ill-suited though we are for its unforgiving might, humans have always been captivated by the ocean.  We flock there year after year on holiday and crowd coastlines around the world with real estate envied by the unfortunate land-locked folks.  We who can barely stand in waist deep water and manage the blows the ocean has for us, yes, those same people, are compelled to stand at the edge of the world and watch, listen, wade, swim.  I thought, as I watched the compulsion play out this week, that we must crave feeling small.  We must need to be reminded that we are but ants to the vastness of the ocean.

Who can cling to petty worries when the mighty sea gets hold of you?  Who can stay immersed in the transient fears of the moment when being baptized by the waves flung at you by something so much larger than your insignificant life? And so we flock to the sea, begging to be reminded that our worries are in vain, that our focus is too narrow.  We line up like ants along the shoreline, drinking in our smallness.

The reminder of our smallness is, somehow, healing.  I came home healed, my wounds cauterized by salt water and abrasive sand. Friday morning I watched the sun rise over the ocean.  Just a speck in a sea of specks to that sun hanging inches above the surface of the water, no bigger to it than the grains of sand in my toes. My focus was, I see now, too narrow.  My view has been widened, and now even my old comfy home looks different.

I understand now why people bring home shells.  They believe it may be a talisman to ward off the old way of thinking.  They believe the shells will remind them that we all flock to the sea for a dose of the same medicine, a sense of how small we all are, how insignificant our petty woes really are in the scheme of things.

I brought home a respectable sunburn, a slew of pictures I haven't had time to look at, and a song of gratitude.  For the reminder that my worries are fleeting, for two beautiful boys to share the ocean with, and for a life that means more in context than it does under a microscope.  For all of that and more, I am grateful for my week at the beach. 


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