All things being equal, I’d rather be outside–unless there’s snow, I’ve not yet been able to overcome my aversion to cold. But if it’s not cold, and I could be anywhere outside, I’d pick the ocean every single time. My parents used to take us to California every few summers to go to Disneyland and/or Sea World and during those weeks we always had a day at the beach. Those were the golden moments of my youth, although you wouldn’t know it from the early 8mm movies. The last time I remember visiting the beach with my parents I was almost 16. I remember that day very well. I spent an hour or so standing chest-deep in the troughs of the waves and bobbing up over the top out beyond the breakers. The wave would lift me up off the sand and set me back down, over and over. Near where I was a girl almost my age in a white bikini was doing the same thing. It seems strange to me now that I didn’t try to strike up a conversation, or even really make eye contact, knowing more with hindsight what 16-year-old kids are supposed to be like.
I don’t think I saw the ocean again until I was 23 or so. That year I kind of got fed up with everything and just took off by myself and eventually ended up in Eureka, California. I sat on the beach and watched the sun set. Corny as it sounds, it’s almost as if I could feel the waves unwinding all the knots that were in me. I just sat for a couple hours and watched the waves crash. That was the start of my beachside therapy. Whenever things got bad I’d pick up and run to the beach by myself for a couple days. I went up the coast to Oregon a couple times, just to see new beaches. Frequently I’d be gone four or five days without having a conversation that didn’t include somone counting back change or asking if I would like fries with my order. Mostly, as it was when I was 16, I didn’t mind.
Now that I’m married I’ve found out not everyone likes the beach. I think I’m winning Debbie over, but I don’t think she will ever see what I do in the ocean. She seemed to get a bit of a kick today watching me scramble in the knee-deep surf, grabbing shells and rocks and trying to stay reasonably dry. I didn’t fully succeed. There is something else I realized today that changed. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find perfect shells. I’d toss out most of the ones that were broken, or had worn down in the surf. My goal was to find matching halves and keep them together, although I rarely succeeded. I hadn’t realized until today that when I find a whole shell, unless it’s really interesting I usually toss it up on the drier sand for someone else. (Uninteresting finds go back into the surf.) There’s something about the shell fragments that I now find really intreguing. I can wax all sorts of philosophical at times and come up with reasons why I’m interested in the little broken things in life, but boiled-down right now in the hotel, after a day at the beach, I think that things just don’t have to be whole and perfect to be beautiful. And finding the beauty in things that are fragmented gives a whole lot more to think about in the long run.