During my last trip down to the coast, I found myself engaging in some serious soul searching as I lay on the beach right at the edge where the ocean laps on the shore. My daughter, Miss Wiggles, was a few feet in front of me contently slapping handfuls of the wet sand on top a drooping heap that only in the loosest terms could be called a sand castle. The tide was going out being pulled by its master, the moon, but would still make a stand at times and come rushing back in momentarily causing my daughter’s efforts to partially collapse and ooze back from where it came. This only caused her to laugh and redouble her efforts in building it up higher.
I guess if I was a good father I would have jumped in there with her but I was struck by the sheer simple enjoyment she was having on her own and I saw no need to interject myself when my daughter has never had any qualms about demanding my time or attention when she wanted it. With her attention riveted for at least that fleeting moment I was able let my mind fly off wondering about anything that might catch such a nebulous and muddled thing.
It was a very relaxing feeling letting the ocean breeze swirling around me carry my thoughts too far off corners that normal, hectic life did not allow. I found myself thinking and wondering about my old high school and the condition of what was left of the campus. During my sophomore year the main building had mysteriously burned down forcing the construction of a new high school a few years later. Faces of old friends that I attended school with and had not seen in years appeared next leaving me pondering whether their curious pairings and resulting marriages had survived the tests of time. That pulled me onto my own past relationships, somewhere out there were several ladies that going all the way from elementary to high school I had crushes on but never found the courage to tell them of my feelings. If that was not enough I found myself drifting to memories of a wonderful woman that I shared time with while on leave from the army and far more recently to memories of a raven-haired beauty lost to me now but who will always be part of my soul.
The laughter of my daughter, who had taken to decorating her oozing pile of wet sand with seashells, brought me back to the here and now. With my pleasant train of thought derailed I began examining the mix of wet sand and crushed shells clinging between my toes something from the more dimly lit corridors of memory had me recalling that someone once said that soul searching was even less useful that cleaning the lent from your belly button. This person went on to say that at least after cleaning your belly button you had something physical to show for your efforts. The sanitary conditions of my belly button not withstanding my geographic location and mental disposition that day predisposed me to little else, aside from watching my daughter, and I turned my attention to my surroundings.
My daughter and I had made our way that bright morning to Huntington Beach State Park because the parking lot at my spiritual home, the south end of Pawleys Island, was jammed with cars forcing us a few miles up the road. Even with the vast majority of the cars having license plates from elsewhere taking the available parking I felt none of the usual disdain for those that at times I consider trespassers. It was Memorial Day weekend and I was just happy to be away from the stifling and monotonous Midlands with its hive-like suburban existence full of pretentious people desperate to impress anyone of their importance. Just returning to the still relatively laid back Lowcountry where people still pass each other on the street and exchange greetings even if they are complete strangers had uplifted my spirits.
Years before Huntington Beach State Park had been the place where I headed seeking some solitude from whatever might be clouding my thoughts. Even in the most crowded of times during the summer months it was never hard to find a quiet spot well away from the tourists giving me a chance for quiet contemplation. That morning was no different; Miss Wiggles and I came out on the north end of the beach and after a short walk further up away from the greater part of the crowd laid the old army blanket I brought out on the sand next the dunes then rushed down to play in the water.
Looking around as Wiggles continued her struggle with the receding but restless ocean our nearest neighbor was some guy sitting a beach chair at least fifty yards away dividing his attention between the book he was reading and the fishing pole that might provide him his dinner that night. After that was a couple that Wiggles had spoken with on our walk out. They were exceptionally friendly but I spied the older man wearing a wedding ring that was curiously absent on the much younger woman. Behind us the undisturbed and undeveloped parkland offered an illusion of a time before multi-story hotels, golf courses, outlet malls, and clogged roadways. Miles further away to the west towering clouds building into dark disgruntled thunderstorms offered a majestic view of the power of nature. Lightening occasionally flashed out from the clouds seemly in anger as they struggled against the wind blowing from the east preventing them from reaching the beach and drifting out to sea. To the north and even more sparsely populated section of the beach a few people could be seen appearing far deeper in quiet contemplation than myself.
As much as it might have been noticeable to others I found myself missing something that I could not quite put my finger on. Something so basic was being overlooked that when I finally realized what it was I was far from reassured but actually worried that I was so tied to the everyday affairs of life that I would actually notice its absence. What I was missing was any human made noise. Except for the laughter of my daughter and the sound of the wet sand she was slapping against her construction no sound around me came from people or their machines.
I heard the blowing wind rustle through the nearby vegetation just over the sand dunes. The waves could be heard crashing against the shore and each other. The splash of a pelican was heard as it impacted the water chasing a fish. Even the flapping of wings of a tiny sandpiper could be heard as it sought safety in the air away from angry seagulls keeping guard over some small morsel of food they refused to share. Moreover, if the wind died down some there was the faint hint of thunder echoing from the distant clouds.
My distance from the crowd congregating mainly at the entrance to the beach insulated me from the chattering hordes, the ringing cell phones, and blaring radios. Beyond that was the absence of any noise from cars, airplanes, air conditioners, boats, refrigerators, hair dryers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, or anything connected with people and their machines. Closing my eyes I could imagine myself far removed in both time and space from the shaky tower of cards that we have built with our dependency on machines and gizmos hysterically seeking ever-greater efficiency and comfort. Largely sacrificing our greater mental well-being we bring on newer machines and more glamorous gizmos in an attempt to secure even more efficiency and comfort ahead of anyone else. Is it any wonder many of us seek some chemically concocted relief from the anxiety we develop cocooning ourselves in a prison made of iPods, DVD players, McMansions, marble countertops with stainless steel appliances , fifty-inch high-definition televisions with surround sound, while daily driving to work in traffic jammed with others all wanting to be the first one to their destinations?
For me the sad part in all these revelations is that while I would love to jump off this crazy train and find a far simpler life well away from what I figure one day will come crashing down condemning both the good and bad, I cannot. My children are as tied to this lifestyle as most others and would not willingly separate from it. My wife is already sure that I am several French fries short of a Happy Meal and any mention of downsizing or simplifying an already far too complicated life only gets me a befuddled look of concern at best or her calling fellow attorneys specializing in the removal of troublesome spouses at worst.
As with all good things the lengthen shadows and growing hunger of both Wiggles and I forced us to pack up our stuff and move on. I left the sounds of nature behind and rejoined the noise of human civilization and its driving need to stomp out everything else. Making our way through the thinning crowd at the entrance to the beach heading back to the parking lot my thoughts fell on the now forgotten person who said soul searching was even less useful than cleaning the lent from your belly button. Despite the dire thoughts my soul searching on the beach that day did much to clear my spirit and renew my energies. Just for shits and giggles as my daughter was using the open air shower at the parking lot to wash the sand from her feet I reached down to my belly button and checked for any possible lent, coming up with a small piece and with a session of successful soul searching I felt a little ahead of the game. I guess in the end that is all most of us can hope to accomplish.