sunset

I think I was probably born with salt in my veins. My father, a middle child of five boys, was born and lived at Carolina Beach, NC with his family during the 40’s, 50’s and part of the 60’s. During that time, Carolina Beach was steadily becoming a hot tourist area, but it was also still a very small town. (It’s still a small town during the off season). All of the locals knew one another, and to listen to my dad talk about his childhood, he had a lot of freedom to run around and explore the island with his brothers. My dad can talk for hours about his youthful adventures on the beach, from fishing trips to body surfing to hanging out with other local kids and watching the tourists on the Boardwalk. He even had several conversations in those years with Robert Harrill, the well-known Hermit of Fort Fisher.

I have very early memories of the beach, of being held by my father in the ocean as he taught me to relax and not be afraid of the water. I remember riding out on the beach in his 4-wheel drive Bronco, always an adventure, and sometimes one in which we either got stuck or had to pull someone else out of the sand. When my brothers and I were very young, our parents would drive down the beach and find a pool of water left over from the high tide. We played in the pool while my dad sat up his rod and reel and fished off the beach.

I inherited a love of the ocean from my father. I also inherited his light hair, light eyes and fair skin. For this reason, my relationship with the beach has been complicated. It was further complicated when both my mother and one of my brothers developed melanoma, and when I developed a basal cell carcinoma on my face in my 30s. All of us survived our skin cancers, but the scares made me aware of what I really knew all along, that I had to be very careful in the sun.

As a small child, my mother kept me in sunscreen, but I cannot tell you how many times I got sunburned as a teenager and young woman. I spent many summer nights battling pain as my sunburns brushed against the bed sheets; I  experienced chills from sun poisoning. There were times when I didn’t wear sunscreen, convinced that I could eventually tan. There were other times when I did wear it, but forgot to reapply when I lost track of time because I was having so much fun. Once I accepted the fact that I would never tan, I wised up. I stopped going to the beach for a while, but then later, I figured out how to handle my predicament. I started going later in the day.

The sun is hottest from 10am-4pm so now I generally go around 4pm when the people who bask  in the hottest part of the day start to leave. I call it the shift change. When it gets close to dusk, I call it swimming with sharks. On the rare occasion that I go earlier, I limit my exposure to a short window of time and cover myself with sunscreen. I could write a separate blog on sunscreen, I’ve learned so much about it, and probably will at some point. I have lots of tips.

Despite this quandary, I still love the beach. I enjoy swimming in any body of water, whether it be a pool, a lake or the ocean. I imagine if I’d been born in the mountains I’d be writing this gushing article about mountain streams, but I’ve grown up by the ocean so the ocean experience is my favorite. To me, the ocean truly feels alive. It is alive. The tide comes in and goes out. The waves pull me toward them then they wash over me. That sense of floating and bobbing over the waves, being a part of that moving life force, is a thing I crave. I love the game of the ocean, the one where I stand in the water and debate each wave as it barrels toward me. Do I go over this one or duck below it? If I duck below it just before it hits, I can feel the power of its force right above my head. It’s right there, but far enough away that it doesn’t hurt me..but right there. Afterward, I’ll head to the beach to dry in the setting sun, the salt evaporating on my skin. I’ll read or just sit there and think while I dry,  and in those moments I am filled with peace.

I’m the kind of person who has a constant dialogue running in my head. I’m sure a lot of people are that way. Once, I heard that women’s minds are like noodles. We have lots of ideas in our heads and they are intertwined. My mind is definitely like a plate of spaghetti noodles. One noodle for my job. Another one for work on the house then another for what needs to be done in the yard. Another noodle for finances and writing projects, books I’m reading, concerns over how I’m going to stay in shape in my forties.  Another for my relationships with other people (and each of those relationships has its own noodle) along with many other responsibilities and goals.

Last year, I had an experience on the beach I have never had before. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. I believe I have had this experience before, but very briefly and not in a way that I fully recognized or could articulate. I was sitting on the beach drying off after having been tossed about by the waves. I remember looking around and listening to the waves crash against the shore. Seagulls pranced in front of me, begging for handouts. Pelicans dove for fish in the distance and the sun was beginning to set with vibrant colors of blue, pink, orange and lavender. A child played in the shoreline and people walked by contentedly. Suddenly, I realized that the chattering in my head had ceased along with any actual thoughts. I’m not sure how long it lasted, probably just a few minutes, but for just a few minutes, I stopped thinking and was simply present. My mind sat back and allowed my soul to be part of the beach.Once I realized what had happened, I snapped out of it. I looked over at a friend who sat reading in a chair beside me and said, “You’re not going to believe what just happened to me”.

I believe this is what we live for. We live for the moments when we can shut out the chatter of our lives and just be one with God’s universe. We know there is something much much bigger than the day-to-day routine. I believe it’s a precursor to eternity. Maybe it’s even practice for eternity. Just remember to wear sunscreen.

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