I find that the beach is a good place to go when in need of what we like to call a reality check. I usually go for the obvious reasons, and leave with some fresh life reminders to go with my fresh sunburns. The beach is one of the few places that still clings to the simplicity, purity and romance that many recreational activities have lost in today’s over-stimulated and highly charged culture of technological entertainment. We take it for granted because it’s always been there, but it really is a wonder that people of all walks of life will gather in one place just because it’s where water meets sand. They all just go, lay around on their towels, and play.
Most of these people do this without much clothing on, and this is where some of my reminders come from. Some people remind me that I am actually in much better shape than I give myself credit for. Others, especially here in Orange County, remind me that just because it’s summer that doesn’t mean it’s OK to overindulge on frozen treats and forget I ever learned how to use a rowing machine.
Though I do enjoy studying the fascinating showcase of the human body to be found on a summer day in Newport, I like to think I spend more time pondering the meaning of life than the meaning of stretch marks and undersized swimsuits. It’s easy to do a lot of profound life-thinking, because another thing the beach reminds me is that silence is golden. Or perhaps a nice shade of sand. I remember that it’s OK – no, vital – to just be sometimes, with our without a friend, a book, an iPod.
So, while I’m at the beach just being, I can’t help but think about that giant thing called the ocean. I am drawn to it, in part, because it reminds me of how small I am, how insignificant. And I know it’s a tired metaphor, but it’s refreshingly humbling to compare oneself to a grain of sand. If this is accurate, it means that our overwhelming fears, anxieties and seemingly unsolvable or unending problems are actually nothing. Dust, specs, molecules, atoms. Minnows swimming around meaninglessly in the stormy, surging world we live in, leaving nothing but a few unlasting bubbles in our wake. This is a comforting thought.
Unfortunately, it also means that our accomplishments, loves, hopes and dreams are nothing. Minnows and tiny bubbles. I love to think that my problems are meaningless in the greater scheme of things, but I don’t so much enjoy diminishing everything that I live for to the relative importance of small fish.
Is it possible to have both? To maintain a healthy perspective on our problems while still seeing our proudest moments and greatest achievements as things that truly matter, that give meaning and beauty to the world? Isn’t it cheating to see the bad stuff as unimportant and the good stuff as momentous and great? Is it better to see everything we do and think and have and lose as trite and insignificant, or to see it all as seriously consequential? Which state of mind can better keep us going every day?
Here is when I leave the beach. I remind myself that while just being is an important thing to do from time to time, sometimes it’s better to get myself to the gym and spend time thinking about nothing but my score on the erg – however big or small the number is.