I have rented a beach property on a barrier island off the southern coastline. I hope to wile away there some sultry summer hours in rest and contemplation with my family. We will take a collective deep breath to catch up from this manic past year. I think also as much to gather our strength for what lies ahead.
Changes are afoot at summer’s end, my dear Deuteros, not just in my own work life, but for all of us. My daughter switches universities and Cantons, leaving home to stay on course with the next phase of her studies. My son ends his apprenticeship and graduates with his certificate, also to begin new studies towards a degree. And my wife and I are moving house and moving countries, leaving our adopted home of more than two decades to return to the land of our birth. My wife and I are to become refugees in all but name, for I fear we have become strangers to the land that was once all we knew.
Every significant life change makes us into temporary strangers. We become strangers to our old habits and our old ways, even as we are not yet familiar with our new surroundings. We will be fools for a while, not knowing how to get simple things done, embarrassed and uncomfortable in our ignorance. Why do it then, one might reasonably ask? Why not just stay in our known environs? To grow and develop we must confront the new. It is an illusion that we maintain our position when we stand still, because we run the risk of lapsing into complacency. Still water more easily stagnates.
Sometimes progressing on the journey of life means leaving the comfort of what made us successful in the past. To stay successful in the future, we must take with us all that we have learned along life’s journey. The cargo of life’s lessons is not heavy if we pack it carefully about our persons. One of the great opportunities a change offers us is to leave behind all that we no longer need. Jettison the dead weight of bad memories and bad experiences, of second-guessing and regret. Assimilate to yourself the best of all you have experienced and all you have learned, and not only will your steps be light, but you will be well prepared for your next step.
Remember that you have surmounted countless obstacles to get where you are today. Let the confidence of your past victories, your triumphs over so many struggles and worries and cares, carry you into the unknown with your head held high. Will everything go according to plan? This I can tell you is hardly to be expected. Will you encounter new challenges and unexpected setbacks? Almost certainly. Will you overcome them? I have not the slightest doubt. Can I tell you how you will overcome what comes your way? No I cannot. But I am nonetheless supremely confident that you will prevail because you have all the lessons and skills that brought you to your current position.
Now in my case, we are not traveling so far for our summer rest that I have outrun my sense of the absurd. For starters I cannot seem to outdistance my own folly, for I have fallen into the trap of reading the marketing material about the vacation properties on offer. As if this could tell me anything about what sort of environment will foster relaxation and restoration! The greatest threat to our peace of mind lies within our own minds, and these we carry with us no matter how distantly we travel.
But there I was, Deuteros, reading about houses arranged in military order by number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and rows distant from the beach. Shocked at the geometric progression in price as properties inch closer to the shore and the surprising jumps as each bedroom gets tacked on. After some time perusing the offerings, you could be forgiven for thinking that a home without a television in every room is akin to a prison sentence, each silent room promising the torture of temporary boredom. “Can you believe they only have TVs in the bedrooms, dining room, and living room, and not the kitchen or bathrooms? How can I possibly evacuate my bowels if I am not accompanied by a screen before my face?” “It is a hardship, dear, but I suppose you could take your iPad with you when the need comes upon you.”
If I sound unkind, and I do to myself as well, it is because I am so disappointed to be reminded yet again that this is apparently what we want. And it must be what we want, because this is what the market offers at every turn: private pools, spas, and furnished patios with gas grills; flat screen TVs in every room and WiFi throughout; a laundry room, a garage, and a walkway to the beach. Tell me, Deuteros, is it the warm embrace of your heated pool, the closed walls of your private gardens, and the flat screens facing your King size beds that bring us to the seaside?
Or is it that moment when you slip off your shoes and socks near the end of the wooden slat walkway and feel the sand between your toes? When you first note the stiff breeze of Atlantic wind across your face and the unmistakable smell of salt in the air? Could it be upon hearing the reeds in the dunes rustling in the wind as you round the final curve and lay eyes on the ocean? Surely by the time you are out of the soft, dry sand and onto wetter and firmer ground, you will once again be on the way to grounding yourself in what’s important.
To walk along the shore just above the sandpipers, who are themselves rushing to stay just ahead of each advancing wave, is to walk away from worldly cares. With pelicans silhouetted by the setting sun, and dolphins’ beaks occasionally breaking the surface, at that moment who cares whether you walked from the third row or the seventh? Whether you will return to a private pool, a community pool, or no pool at all? Yes you may have a TV on every surface, but still find that you are happiest leaving all screens dark.
It is outside in the wind and salt and sand that we will find ourselves closest to nature, and perhaps our own true natures. And it is inside in the close confines of a family conversation that we will find satisfaction, and perhaps peace.