I think it was Melville who said something to the effect of contemplation being wed to the sea. I’m no different, I suppose. Not approaching the talent of a Melville, that’s certain, but I too find my mind reflecting upon time at the beach. Is it presumptuous to think we people drive or fly to the beach for reasons all that different from one another? I bet we’re more alike than that. To find reprieve from the mundane? To escape busyness and hectic schedules? To recharge our souls? To make memories with our loved ones? To gorge on crab, oysters, scallops, and shrimp? I went for all of those reasons and more. But the question remains: what did I go to the sea to see?
Back home at my desk, the small of my back hurts from many hours behind the steering wheel during the drive back. We’ve fed our pets and picked up the mail. We’ve plopped luggage down in the living room to put away later. And it’s good to be back. But what did I go to the sea to see?
First, to get away with my loved ones. Though my daughter could not go due to her schedule, the rest of us did get away. Metro Atlanta’s city lights faded into the Carolinas’ sands and brilliant stretches of sun on the Atlantic. Wispy clouds, whose shapes changed with the breezes, arrested my eyes more than a few times. Hours away from home but it felt like a universe away. But what else did I go to the sea to see?
Second, to leave the tyranny of the present. I did not take my schedule out of my backpack once. I’m a Luddite re technology. I still use a paper calendar and write my appointments in pencil to chart each day’s planned events. When most people operate comfortably on their smartphone calendars, I’m the holdout with a paper calendar and pencil. But hey, my pencil is mechanical, so there’s that. I only checked office email once, I think. I used my smartphone to take pictures of scenes I did not want to forget, but tried to stay away from news, social media, etc. It’s amazing how one’s mood improves the farther one gets from the barrage of information overload. But what else did I go to the sea to see?
Third, though not in the order of importance, is what I think I went to the sea to see. It’s one thing, I think, but it’s multifaceted. Here’s the way it washes over my mind’s eye: When my ten-year-old said each day, “Dad, let’s throw the football some more!” and I looked up from my folding chair on the sand, and he’s standing five yards away tossing the pigskin back and forth between his hands in a small spiral, and the sun’s rays shimmer off the waves over his shoulders, and the fall winds lift his blond hair as he walks closer to me shouting, “Dad, Dad, come on.” And I put down my biography of Emily Dickinson and look up to see him smile when he sees I’m coming his way to throw.
And there are the images of my wife walking barefoot up the shore looking at the shells around her tanned feet, and I can see her face brown already from a few days of sun, and I know these images will fill me long after we’ve driven west back to GA. She’s prettiest to me when she does not know I’m watching her and loving her from afar.
And I hear the gulls circling near us as we toss the football, and the pelicans fly in formation two hundred meters out, and blue pigeons strut incredibly close to us on the sands as if to let us know we’re the visitors.
It’s the wash of these sounds, the sea smells, the sun-drenched days, the unmistakable gait of one’s loved ones. The images of the leather spiraling in the sun, of one’s wife walking the beach afternoons or under stars and moonlight so bright it would be shameful to question God.
These reflections come into precious focus now, after I’m back at the desk and hear voices call my name to tell me it’s time to eat. It is as if I’m beginning to understand what I went to the sea to see.