Monday, August 20, 2018

Life's A Beach

I know I'm neither alone nor exaggerating when I say that I love the beach.   As I resident of Long Island, I am never far from the beach, and even in winter will often walk the boardwalk.  And as much as I enjoy all the seasons, I can't deny feeling that most of the year is a prelude to summer, when I can finally sit in the sun, on the sand, and dip in the water.  Experiences at  the beach are multi-sensory and for me, intensely spiritual.

Growing up, my family went to the beach almost weekly every summer.  My father liked to fish, but got seasick, so he fished off the shore at Jones Beach.  We would get there early in the morning and stay all day.  I was mesmerized by the beauty and power of the ocean and would make up songs to sing to the waves (okay, I was that kind of kid), just describing its strength, sounds, taste, sparkles from the sun.  And at some point I realized that those songs were a form of prayer.  That in admiring the ocean, I was praising its Creator.  If the ocean is so stunningly beautiful and majestic, imagine what its Creator must be like!  And now that I think of it, look at the interplay between heaven and earth, the way the waves reach up to the sky, how the sky uses tides to pull the waves heavenward.  Isn't that what we're all reaching for?  I'll never forget a Donavan concert I went to years ago (anyone remember him?  "Mellow Yellow").  It was the late 60's  and he was advising the audience not to do drugs.  He said he understood the desire to get high because "we're all fallen angels and we want to get back to heaven".

As a parent and grandparent, one of my greatest joys is sharing my love of the beach with my children, and in doing so, teaching them how to navigate the ocean.  As it turns out, this is an excellent metaphor for living a meaningful life.  For example, we start with our toddlers standing at the shoreline to feel the water reaching for their feet.  But they quickly learn that standing still puts them in a rut.  At the ocean and in life it's important to keep moving, keep trying, choose a direction.  Otherwise we can get stuck in meaningless routines and feel like we're going nowhere.   Once our children are old enough to wade in a little deeper,  we teach them to pay attention to their surroundings.  I tell my kids to look for our beach blanket and to keep it directly in their line of vision.  The water tends to pull us sideways and often we need to  wade back from where it carries us.  In life too, we learn to keep our sights on our goals and values.  It's easy to get carried away by life's distractions and we often need to realign our actions with our true intentions.  

An older child is ready to ride the waves.  At first, this can be terrifying.  The waves are tall and strong and our instinct is to run from them.  But running from them will cause them to fall on us and knock us down.  Instead, we need to move toward the incoming wave, to face it and meet it before it breaks.  Then, it lifts us off our feet and sets us down again.  It's exhilarating!  In the same way, as hard as it is, we must face our fears head-on.  Forcing ourselves to try something that seems scary will only make us stronger.  As a new early childhood director, there were many times when I had to fight my nature to do my job; things like disciplining teachers, alerting parents to potential special needs, advocating to the board or other administrators for appropriate class size, best practice, etc.  To accomplish this, I followed the advice I gave above, ie., I kept my eye on my highest value, which was the best interests of the children.  And in doing so, I became stronger and better able to handle more complex and troubling issues as they arose.  (And they always do.)

Just like time, the ocean is always moving, never still.  Nothing lasts forever.  If we get knocked down by a wave, we know that it will eventually recede so we can get back up again.  We go through scary times in life, we feel pain.   But hard times recede, pain ebbs or we learn to manage it.  When I was in labor with my first child, I was shocked and frightened by the intensity of the pain.  The midwife told me to ride it like a wave.  She said it will grow and crest, and then finally recede.  She was right, and I managed fine.

The ocean is mysterious.  There's a whole world underneath it, about which we know very little.  And even though we know the ocean ends at another shore, we can't see it.  We can't see the other side.  Like life.  We don't know everything.  We believe there's more on the other side of life but we can't see it or touch it.  The best we can do is make the most of what we can see and to continue learning as much as possible to make our experience, on the beach and in life, as safe, fun, and meaningful as possible.

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