Since recently relocating to the beach, I have taken on some new habits. I've scaled back my vaccuming, begun downloading classical music and changed my diet to no longer include seafood. I also drink more. Alcohol - not water. The beach culture seems to demand it.
I've also taken to running on the beach every morning, which was quite a task to start. After two weeks of groaning every time my alarm went of at 6 a.m., sitting up and promptly resetting it for forty minutes later, I finally dragged myself from my cool, comfy t-shirt sheets and donned my running shoes. (after brushing my teeth, of course!) 5 days in, I was hooked.
The beach looks so much different in the morning than it does at any other time of day. The light is soft, making the grooves in the powdery sand difficult to navigate. The hard, packed sand is littered with tiny, sparkling shells, and the birds govern the shallows, unafraid, in the absence of children building sand castles and middle-aged men and women sipping wine coolers, toes dug into the sand, lounging under colorful umbrellas. Even when the ocean seems excited, and the waves crash loudly, heralding a pending thunder storm, the tone is serene. It's just me, the herons, the saltwater and a couple of men in cut-off t-shirts fishing.
Except for Tuesday. On Tuesday, there was a strange crisp quality to the air, unusual for mid-July in Florida. The temperature might not have been cooler than the day before, but there was a starchy energy hanging in the early morning breeze, and it invigorated my steps. I hit the sand with gusto, my eyes fixed on the northern horizon. I ran steadily, propelled forward by brisk cello concertos performed by Yo-Yo Ma. I was making excellent time, so I took on an extra half-mile, just for the giggle of it, turning around only when I thought my lungs might give out.
I allowed myself a quarter-mile walk to give my heart a chance to slow and my mind a moment to wander. Running on the beach is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, I am surrounded by beauty everywhere I look. On the other, I dare not look around too much, or I will fall in a hole left by an eager child construction worker or slip on a slimey piece of seaweed left to thwart me by the tide. I spend more time looking at the ground than I would like which is why my walk breaks have come to mean so much. During those quarter-miles, I spot dolphins. I see love messages drawn in the sand by starry-eyed teenagers. I watch pelicans plunge into the water in pursuit of breakfast, and one time, I am sure I identified a shark. I often look up at the moon, still shining brightly as the sun's low light slowly begins to take over. Those quarter-miles are magical, but never more so than Tuesday.
Thanks to my extra half mile, I found myself walking past a public beach access area I had only encountered a couple of times before. A man and woman were walking through the powdery sand toward the water from the parking lot. They appeared to be in their mid-fifties, both adorned in casual beach attire - a t-shirt and khaki shorts for him...a sun-dress for her. They held hands and looked at each other dreamily now and again as they walked. I slowed my pace to better observe them and to keep from running them over. They seemed so involved with each other, they would never have seen me coming.
In my mind, I promptly named them and began composing their love story. His name was Marshall. He had been in a doomed relationship in his mid-twenties and had sworn off love forever thereafter. He became a truck driver, and found his fulfillment in the many acquaintances he made on his travels, rather than in the arms of a committed mate. Her name was Shirley. She was a server and bartender at one of the many beach establishments close-by. She had spent her whole life searching for the "one" until the day that Marshall stopped into her bar after dropping a truckload of beer at the tiny, beachside supermarket down the road. It wasn't love at first sight, but they became friends and email buddies. Marshall would stop by the bar each time he made his beer deliveries, a route he found he was beginning to request more and more frequently. Shirley would eagerly anticipate his visits, even investing in her first eyelash curler which she had the woman at the make-up counter show her how to use.
One hot, muggy Monday, Marshall realized that his visit to the beach would be followed by a couple of days off. His supervisor offered him a complimentary night's stay at a beach hotel, a reward for his prompt deliveries and well-reviewed service to customers. With a strange sort of intuitive certainty, Marshall refused. He made his normal delivery to the tiny, beachside supermarket that day, but he did not go directly to visit Shirley. Instead, he found a barbershop and invested in a professional shave. He proceeded to a nearby florist where he ordered eleven pink carnations and one red rose. He purchased a pack of gum, a bottle of red wine recommended to him by a clerk at Publix, and a can of Axe Body Spray which he used liberally, both on his body and in the cab of his truck.
At precisely 4 p.m., Marshall arrived at Shirley's bar, flowers in hand, a sheepish grin plastered across his face. Shirley looked up from the drink she was pouring, and beamed at him, her lovely curled lashes rapidly beating back tears.
Shirley's manager ended her shift early that day. The details that follow belong only to the storied couple, but, perhaps needless to say, their evening's escapades never led to sleep. They sat on Shirley's porch in the wee hours of the morning, enjoying black coffee and a gentle rainstorm that led to a cooler, dryer morning than Shirley could remember in mid-July. They decided to walk to the beach and take in the colors of the sunrise, and the serenity of the quiet, constant ocean.
As they walked toward the water, they saw no one....noticed nothing...and felt everything.
As I watched, Marshall stopped at the place where the soft sand becomes damp and packed. He turned to Shirley, took her other hand in his, and swept her into a waltz. They danced there before me, Yo-Yo Ma providing their soundtrack, though they could hear only the music in their heads. I suddenly felt ashamed for intruding upon their tender moment. I turned my gaze back to the ground that lay ahead of me, and quickened my pace.
I turned to look over my shoulder once when I had put roughly a half mile between us. They were no longer dancing, but they stood holding each other, staring out at the water, oblivious to the world around them.
I took a moment to thank the universe for reminding me to escape once in a while. Being constantly alert and attentive to one's surroundings may be the avenue to great successes, but it seems to me, letting it all just slip away now and again, whether in a lover's embrace or simply alone, enveloped in nature's unmatched beauty, may, in fact, be the avenue to enlightenment.