I am blessed. I have family that lives on the beach on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Several weeks ago, my father said over the phone, ‘Well, we haven’t seen you in a while.’ So I began immediately making plans for a visit. I really needed a break.
I’ve been coming for these visits since the 1970s. And because my life has, more often than not, placed me overseas, coming to the beach has meant coming home.
So I’m here now. I’ve already gone running. I’ve already been to church. I’ve already had long earnest conversations about my latest issues. Going out for seafood is in the agenda for later this week. And I’ve been for walks on the beach. Three of them. In two days.
|Sunset on Hilton Head Island|
When I’m walking on the beach, I can talk out loud. To myself. To God. Nobody can hear me. It’s one of the best things about walking on the beach.
When I’m walking on the beach, I can watch the little sandpipers run, or the seagulls soar, if they are in the air, or bobble if they are padding along on the sand. I can watch the pelicans fly in formation, or see another dive bomb for a fish. I can watch the egrets and herons plunder a tidal pool. Watching the birds as I walk on the beach helps put me and my issues into realistic perspective.
|Sandpiper. They are really small and their legs move comically fast.|
When I’m walking on the beach, I can look at other people. And I am mercifully reminded that nobody looks like the media portrayals of what men and women are supposed to look like. Maybe I am just on the wrong beach. But it is comforting to know that I fit somewhere along the wide band of average.
When I am walking on the beach, I sometimes look across the ocean to the horizon and think of Africa. I think of getting into a little sailboat or a kayak and setting out. And I imagine what it would be like to arrive on the opposite shore, in Senegal, maybe, where the men wear long white robes and embroidered caps on their head. I think about West African food and West African jazz and drum rhythms. And then I remind myself that it’s East Africa where I’d really rather go, and that I’d probably better take a plane or two to get there.
When I’m walking on the beach, sometimes I just have to sit down and make a sandcastle. Not because I must, but because I can. And the castles I love to make are the drip-form spires of the Gaudi Cathedral Sagrada Familia type. Never mind my creation will be gone in a matter of hours. It existed, if for a moment, and therefore so do I.
|Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona|
When I'm walking on the beach, especially if its early, sometimes I see shrimpboats trolling for their daily catch. And if I'm really lucky, I might see dolphins. Dolphins are fun to watch and by definition they require me to sit down and give them some time. They are usually just busy making their circuit just as I am busy making mine. I wonder what they think about on their perambulations.
|I've seen lots of shrimp boats and lots of dolphins, but never together like this!|
When I’m walking on the beach, I leave my barefoot tracks in the sand. But when I’ve turned around and am on the way back, sometimes there’s no trace that I was there – the water has already rushed to erase any memory that I had passed by. This is humbling, for it writes on an immediate surface what my life itself will be like – erased by time, forgotten by most and then by all, important only for what was now, and when now is gone, then so will I be.
When I am walking on the beach, I am often caught up in the expanses – the wide horizon where the sky comes down to touch the water, the long stretches of golden sand flecked with white surf running with the sea and sky to meet at a point somewhere far away. I find such expanses fantastic for recalibrating personal perspective. I am a very small person in a very big world. One does not have to be great, or even special, to find meaning in a small life.
And when I am walking on the beach, I often come across the remains of animals that dwell in the expanse of the sea at my feet. Pieces of crabs, shells, from giant conchs to tiny mussels, the remains of aliens otherwise known as horseshoe crabs, jellyfish blobs, sharks teeth, a cornucopia of decaying plenty for anyone possessed of a bucket and a few ounces of curiosity.
I feel grounded when I am walking on the beach. No longer confined by the issues of work or relationships, beckoned by the expanses to think, to dream, to ponder what if. I have two more days here at the beach. And if I have disappeared from my parents’ house for a couple of hours, then you can pretty well guess where I am. The only mystery remaining to be solved is, ‘Did he go left or right?’
|What I would see if I went left for sunrise.|