A walk along the ocean's edge
|Life’s Colorful Discoveries
The ocean lies before me with its hypnotic rhythm gently lapping the sand under my tired toes. I set my chair down, sip my coffee, and breathe in the air, trying to be in the moment, absorbing the natural beauty. The occasional pelican shatters the smoothness of the ocean, an inverted predator seeking unseen prey. The sun supported by its low arc on the horizon makes itself known. I feel its warmth on my face, and I squint from its glare. I am home. My journey took me on an exhilarating, familiar path, one that I've traveled many times before: before I was a father and all that stood before me and adventure was the open road and which direction to choose. I remind myself that I'm really home, my motorcycle parked after having logged thousands of miles on the ride north. I traveled home in support of my father, heavy with worry for the changes time was placing on his health and, ultimately, his life. I knew also that these events were transforming something in me as well. My time spent with my father had never seemed as temporary as these past few weeks. My father's health and escalating frailties were etched in my mind and conflicting with the man I knew not long ago. I've learned how a child's recognition of his parents' vulnerabilities to aging appears in moments of sheer sadness wrapped in ephemeral fear. Yet somehow this whole crazy combination gets draped in a nostalgic fondness as the child becomes the protector and parents the protected.
In the past five months I buried a marriage while trying to keep from burying a parent. No one ever tells you about the unique challenges your parent's are facing while you are busy being a kid dreaming about one day being an adult yourself. Ironically, when you eventually realize such truths, you childishly long for the simplistic innocence and familiar fears of your childhood. Though long gone from your body, they somehow sit behind your vision on the world. I still see my childhood whenever I look into my daughter's eyes. Every time she says she can't wait to grow up, I, too, remember saying this. I remember also looking at my dad and thinking he'd always be big and strong, and I'd always be small. I know now that that road to self-discovery is forever lined by such mental billboards. Still, how do you tell a seven year-old to stop and enjoy her youth, her innocence, and this carefree time of life? I can't, so I don't. Instead I knowingly agree as my own parents did with me and wait for that time when my daughter will know the secret, too.
I 'm here now at the beach where I always come when I need to balance my world. I'm often reminded of John F. Kennedy's quote where he relates man's quest and affinity for the oceans of the world as something so natural, so logical, reasoning that the earth is made up of three quarters water and so, too, is the human body. The simplicity of such a thought makes sense - the vastnesses, the ebb, and the flow - all reminding me that the ocean is life itself. I have my coffee, my journal, and I'm about to completely zone out of the thoughts, worries, and concerns I've carried for weeks, surrendering them to the life force of the sea as I wade along its edge. Almost magically, I begin to feel the tenseness drain from my mind, and a sense of restorative calm take its place as I slowly amble through the morning tide. It is 8:30 am, and I've just arrived after taking my daughter, Sophia, to school. I am surrounded by the beauty of all that is unique to Florida: the palm trees, the turquoise water, and by virtue of the month, the absence of tourists. The sun sits directly in front of me now, low on the horizon, but quickly rising in both heat and position. Fishermen cast from the pier and the lifeguard yawns lazily as he opens his station for another day. I am readjusting to the pace of my life again, still enjoying my vacation and my solitude, allowing myself quiet and reflective time just to enjoy the beach. And yet, my mind still pulses from the riding adventure, and I am drawn back to specific memories of where I've been and the people I saw.
Those who truly know me know there's nothing more I enjoy than a do-nothing-day at the beach with a good book and some music. This is exactly what I have on my hands today. The sea is silken and glistens in the sun. Days like these allow me to search for smoothly shaped and uniquely colored beach glass that has washed ashore with the new day's tide. I've just returned from the beaches of my youth in New Jersey and found not one piece in seven days. Why you can't find these gems in New Jersey, I can only guess. Could it be the prohibition of alcohol on the beach, thereby negating a steady flow of glass bottles? Florida has no such laws to prohibit people from bringing anything to the beach, which creates a laissez-faire atmosphere with regard to personal beach intrusions. Beach glass collecting is something done more here in Florida than up north for just this reason. My daughter, Sophia, has become caught up in the hunt as well and has a little jar next to her bed with her "stash."
I walk slowly along the beach scanning the tidal deposits for tiny bits of colored glass like a prospector looking for gold. For me, it is in the discovery that I learn the patience required for the search. Though unlike gold veins, the beach re-deposits a fresh batch everyday, creating an endless supply of gems, provided the searcher is determined. My mind is drifting to the music that fills my ears as I walk while the sun continues its steady rise over my shoulders. The warm turquoise water gently laps at my ankles, a constant reminder of how relaxing and mindless such therapy can be. Before someone can even attempt to look for these little nuggets, it helps to understand the order of discovery when searching a beach. I know glass comes in an endless spectrum of colors, though when searching for it on the beach; it primarily appears in five different ones. In order of rarity, the rarest being the first, they would fall into this order: Red, Blue, White, Greenish-blue, Brown. In my eight years of searching, I've only ever found one red one, just one. So it could be said that red beach glass could be considered the "holy grail" of beach glass collecting. Once the "order" is understood, a collector can begin to appreciate the uniqueness of each piece against the backdrop of literally tens of thousands of shells that serve as each piece's subterfuge.
The red glass represents family: rare, irreplaceable, and unique. It is rare to see red bottles or glassware because they are finite in number as are family members. The lesson is that in life we will be given few rare pieces, so they must be nurtured, cherished, and cared for. A lost treasure can never be replaced. Luckily I was able to be with every single one of my red pieces: my parents and four brothers. The next rarest color is cobalt blue. This color represents the few true life-long friends any of us can hope to have in life everyone will have at least one, sometimes more if we're lucky. These are the friends that are loved as if they were family; they are also the friends with whom we can pick right up where we left off one, five or even ten years later. These people are friends in spite of your faults and flaws. These two core groups in our lives are both precious and rare; I spent time with both-- mixing equal parts of fun, laughter and a few tears sprinkled with some shared pain. Still, no matter the moment or circumstance, these people and the influence they have over our lives can never be diminished due to their unique beauty and rarity.
The cloudy white or clear glass, though more common, is also a hard find on most days. This color speaks of another core of friends; though less connected than the others, they are no less dear. These are the friends we all hold dear in our lives though we may occasionally lose track of them, and they remain in our hearts and thoughts forever. I was blessed to be reminded of this often unique type of friendship when I was invited for lunch by a dear friend, someone introduced to me by my mother, but a long-standing friend of mine all the same. The respect, admiration, and joy I feel for this woman and her two children is immense, as they continue to navigate through the loss of both husband and father much too soon in their collective lives. The hours spent with these three on my trip were profound in retrospect, as this family's courage and tenacity are a lesson in the dignity of overcoming true loss and heartache. And like looking through a fine piece of clear glass, I can see their spirits shine through even the cloudiest of days.
The next glass found with certain regularity is the greenish-blue variety or the dark green ones. These represent all the wonderful people who make up the experiences along life's journey, and I met many on mine as I traveled by both motor-cycle and train. If nothing else, the slow train home allowed me to really get to know fellow travelers for once - from the retired widowed school teacher, to the underprivileged student from Washington DC attending college on a scholarship in Florida. These are the many pieces that are common in our lives and often serve as content for our character. Though we may never see these fleeting strangers again, they all combine to change our life's direction, if only by an inch, because they crossed our path. These, too, are valuable and necessary pieces in the design of life's mosaic.
The most common glass found is the Budweiser brown type. These pieces are quite fitting as they represent the everyman that all of us are surrounded by throughout life. These are the peripheral people who we meet in our daily comings and goings, hence the total ease in discovering such pieces. In my "jar," I have but one red piece, several blues, a few more whites, and a handful of the blue-green ones. Seventy percent of my jar is populated by brown pieces of ocean-smoothed glass. The similarities of glass and people don't end with just colors because like glass, people, too, are fragile. And like glass, people can be shaped over time, though some take longer than others. In the case of glass, its smoothness represents maturation, experience, and wisdom, all traits we like to find in each other. In life we yearn to be with people whose rough and sharp edges have been worn off to reveal the true nature and beauty of the person stripped of pretenses and worn smooth by experience and wisdom.
My search for these pieces of glass continues, and it is not unlike our own searches for friends of distinction and character; both are valuable and unique. Today my search yielded one cobalt, two white, four light bluish-green, ten brown. I'm still on vacation, so I'll be at it again tomorrow just enjoying the newest memories of my family, friends, the good times we shared, and the similarities of life's crystalline lessons to the fragile similarities that connect us all.