I took a break from the norm this week, traveling far from the Oregon Coast across the country to the Gulf Coast. This would serve as a time to take a breath before summer camp work really gets heavy and also an opportunity to spend time with my family. It was warm and sunny on Navarre Beach, Florida, much stronger sunlight than I’m used to. The type of sun that tires you out just by spending extended time in its presence. We would spend most of our time during the week on the beach just outside our rented cottages.
Having moved 2,ooo miles across country, the bulk of my interaction with my family comes over skype, texting, or facebook comments. Technology has greatly improved the ability to remain in someone’s life from far away, but physical separation takes its toll on everyone in different ways. It has most certainly been the most difficult part of our great adventure to Oregon, while sharing Oregon with our loved ones has been one of the greatest joys. We still trust the way this decision fits who we are and the decisions we want to make in our life, but even the right decisions don’t make all of life easy.
Navarre Beach is quite different than the beach we live by. The sand is whiter, more powdery. It is being rebuilt by ships the dredge it from off the coast and pump it back onto the shore. The tides fluctuate much less, and the water is this beautiful sea green, giving way to darker blue in the deeper water. There’s a lower risk of hypothermia on this beach and the waves are much less violent. In short, the beach is much more friendly to swimmers. I enjoy comparing sites like this, getting to know the differences, appreciating their respective personalities the way you do the different friends in your life.
I spend a lot of time looking at stuff, just observing it. This comes, I’m sure, from my introverted personality. I get to know a thing just be looking at it for a time. I feel like places, animals, people even are speaking to me, telling me something as I watch. If I don’t describe this right it sounds creepy, but I really feel more like I’m sitting, letting something talk to me. We are always speaking something, telling our story to something, if something is watching.
My birthday came on Wednesday, and I turned 38. At this point, I’ve gotten over some sense that I know what or who I should be at certain age checkpoints. I feel younger than I think I should be feeling, but truth be told, at this point I just want to feel like myself more than I want to feel in a certain developmental stage. I was pretty humbled by the happy birthday messages I had received (over 100) when I checked at the end of the day. Facebook basically does it for you these days, but even the fact that this many people thought about me momentarily seems special. There were people from high school, people from both camps, family, new friends, old friends. It is cool that you have this visual representation of the spider web of people connected to you and how on one day they might take a moment and all wish you well.
Observation leads to a great deal of thought. I spend a lot of times pondering things, looking for interesting little pieces of what people say and do, how a place incorporates all its little pieces at a given time. I am not trying to be judgmental or ascertain any hard truths about something–I don’t think I’m that wise–I’m more just hoping to know something I didn’t know before, to learn some new snipet that will add something interesting or exciting to the moment. At my best, I think this observation prepares me for moments with people or places, small little memorable moments.
I found these putting sand in a bucket of water with my niece. Pointing out the heron to my sister who would stalk it to take its picture. Throwing the ball with my brother-in-law as we talk about baseball. Soliciting my nephew to measure in our rounds of bocce ball. Talking to my mom about church as take a break from the sun. Watching my sister’s in-laws playing with their grandchildren like they too are kids again. Walking with Allyson along the shore, catching each other up on the pressing thoughts we’ve had while we were apart. Standing with my dad on the deck watching the sunset colors change above the ocean, both of us quietly taking it in, but this feeling we were both saying something to each other in that silence.
There had been a secondary sand bar in front of the beach all week, and on Friday it was very pronounced. The water was shallow enough you could walk out to it, so several of us did. I took a mask and snorkel and a body board and paddled my way out there to observe what was happening below the surface. The water was so clear that day. I watched the particles shift as waves passed in and then out. I watched little sea creatures bury themselves in the sand. The breathing through the snorkel gave me a rhythm that seemed to become a soundtrack or some new sort of language. It was this totally different world and I had settled into it for just a moment.
We woke early on Saturday and went through the familiar last-day-of-the-trip routines. Final packing, trash disposal, charging of devices, loading luggage, programming gps, one last look at the ocean, hugs, sloppy kisses from niece and nephew. There’s something about the necessary time limit of the goodbye and the difficulty to summon up the words for what we’re feeling that make most of them inadequate. There are moments I pull out exactly what I want to say, but there are plenty others I don’t have it–it would require much more thinking. In those moments I’d rather stay quiet, not say something unworthy of the moment, and just take it in as much as I can. To remember as much as I can about what I see of that person, how they felt to hug, something I can take with me. I hope people can sense me doing that.
I’m realizing more and more that making connections with whoever, whatever I come near is the way of living that feels the most meaningful to me. I’m not always very outgoing, I’m frequently quiet, but I consistently try to improve my ability to connect and to do it in a genuine, true way. On our connecting flight from Chicago to Portland, Allyson and I were separated. I took my seat, 27F next to the window. Pretty soon a young girl, probably 9 or 10, sat down next to me, separated from her mother. I looked over her shoulder, feeling this instinct to be a protective, older brother figure during the flight. She looked up me and grinned, and I grinned too. At least for this trip in this brief little moment of time from our lives, I felt we would be great friends.