Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Restful, But Joyful

I don't remember my first trip to the beach. I know that my parents took me to Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach sometime in my later childhood. I've seen the pictures. If we went before that, when I was little, I don't remember it.

About one of those trips, all I really remember is being grossed out because there were millions of grasshoppers everywhere and you had to negotiate among them to get to the sea. Then I was grossed out by jellyfish and seaweed. I think my sister got stung by a man'o'war and I got sunburnt.  I didn't like sand in my shoes, nor the feel of my feet on hot sand or shards of seashells. Of course, I was of the age of not liking things. I wonder if I had any fun. 

But, as an adult, I've grown to love the sea in my own quiet way. I don't surf. I don't even really like to swim.  I don't like crowds or heat or too much sun. In many ways, I seem ill suited to time on the beach.

But I could sit and look and listen to the sea for hours. I could walk for miles along the shore without noticing the distance. 

I love the beach in the morning, when it's quiet and crowds are not yet around, when all you see are a few local people who just nod your direction and leave you be.

I love the beach in the evening, when the heat and crowds are gone, but the sunlight still sparkles in the surf.

I love the beach at night, when it is just a sound in the darkness and the boundaries of earth and sea and sky blend into one encompassing feeling.

I spent the first ten years or so of my adult life living by the sea in Kodiak, then Nome, Alaska.  I would go to the shore to think. It was easy to find space to think because Kodiak and Nome are not huge tourist destinations. I remember pulling up to a favorite spot and finding two other people there, so getting back into my truck and driving a few miles further down for a spot I could have to myself.

The white noise and motion of the waves soothes me at a basic, maybe even cellular level.  I leave feeling clean and fresh, like my troubles and shortcomings have been washed away. It's hard to hold onto stress or anger or anxiety in the face of so much open water. The ocean is a place for quiet contemplation for me. For solitude.

So, when my sister proposed a beach trip for all of us (her family, mine, and the grandparents), I both wanted and didn't want to go. It's a very different thing, being at the seashore with kids and family in tow. It can be more wearing than restful. In the end, though, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I'm so glad I went along!

My six year old daughter couldn't remember the beach. We live about three hours inland. She's been a few times, maybe three or four, in her life, but since that last trip was two years ago, she didn't remember it. After all, two years is a third of her life. If you asked her about the beach, she'd talk about wanting to go to the beach house where we had Captain Crunch. Apparently, being allowed to eat sugary cereal was what remained etched on her psyche from that trip.

My six year old is also a bundle of energy. I didn't see my potential beach time with her as restful. I was worried I wasn't up to it. And I was right. It wasn't restful. What it was though, was joyful.

One of the joys of spending time in the company of children is the infectiousness of their enthusiasm. What they feel, they feel wholeheartedly and express without reservation. When N saw the ocean for the first time, I saw the wonder of it in her face and looked at it with new wonder myself.  Even M, my teenager, who is at a more difficult to impress age, was drawn in. We all ran laughing straight to the shoreline anxious to feel the water on our feet.

Usually, I'm not one to play. I love to do things with my children, but have short patience for "let's pretend." I'm also sedentary by nature. I have to fight to make myself do physical things. But N had all of us running and jumping in the waves, calling out to the birds, stomping on sea foam left behind. For her, it was physical joy.  She ran. She jumped. She splashed. She squealed. She danced. She spun.

And I played along.

No it wasn't restful, but it was definitely restorative. It can be good for a quiet soul to remember how to make a joyful noise. I'm fortunate to have my girls to remind me of that.

1 comment:

  1. It's magic, seeing everything over and over for the first time through the eyes of our children. And letting go to enjoy it with them? Priceless! And definitely freeing!