Monday, June 6, 2011

The Crowd On The Empty Beach

I have a blessed existence. One of the most important parts of my day is taking an exuberant dog for a walk on a mostly deserted beach. Since there are usually few people on the beach and Reuben has walked on it nearly every day of his life, I don’t even need to take him on a leash, which is good, because when he sees a bird, this German Shepard runs after it at pretty close to the speed of light.
Meanwhile, I plod along behind him, leaving my footprints in the sand on my way up to the next lagoon and back. I usually do this twice a day, and usually it’s sunny and hot, with the wind coming off the water and the waves crashing next to me. I started off wearing my iPod, but soon realized it was distracting me from the sounds of the beach around me, and I don’t bring it anymore. Instead, I am much more distracted by the crowd I’ve been inadvertently bringing with me on my solitary walks.



The walk on the beach is one of the most important things I do, but not because it’s all I have to do: almost every day I work on my cookbook, at least during the hottest hours of the day when you start to sweat the minute you step out into the sun. My walk on the beach is the most important part of my day because it’s when I get to remind myself of how lucky I am to be alive.
On the days that I’m really reveling in my luck, I’m the only one on the beach with the dog. He runs up and down the beach, shaking coconut shells until their leathery husks peel off, or accidentally stomping crabs that are trying to escape him as he playfully tries to stop their desperate sideways dash to the water. I walk along, staring first at the mountains, then at the ocean, then at the treasures washed up by the waves: dead blowfish, unidentifiable animal parts, huge drowned flying ants, and the occasional refrigerator. I smile at the empty sand stretched out before me, and I let the sun suffuse my skin with Vitamin D and salty spray. I think of nothing, except for how lucky I am.
Those are the good days. On the bad days, I struggle to get down the beach because of all the people in my way: people I owe emails to; people who have implied I will never succeed; people who I had arguments with years ago that I somehow still can’t let go of. It’s kind of like the Verizon Wireless ad with the network of people following you around. When you think about it, what’s good about a crowd of people following you? Wouldn’t you be much less likely to spontaneously skip on your walk, or belt out the few lines of a song, if 100 people were watching your every move?
I don’t remember where I heard it, but there’s a story of two young monks walking along a road when they come to a river. There is a woman standing on the same bank as they are, trying to figure out how to get across. Although it’s against their teachings, (I don't remember why) one of the monks picks the woman up and carries her across the river. The other monk is very bothered by this – doesn’t he know the rules? What makes him think he’s above the teachings? Finally, when they have almost arrived at their destination, the monk blurts out, “Why did you help that woman when you know you aren’t supposed to?” The other monk looked at him and replied, “I put that woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
So why am I still carrying these people and these situations? What good does it do me to haul them down the beach with me, especially when it’s so hard for me to walk in sand in the first place? How does it help me to keep these people with me when all I want is a walk by myself?
Well, it doesn’t help me. It is of absolutely no use to me to continue to walk in a crowd. In fact, it probably explains a lot about why I always feel like I need to be alone: because even when I am alone, I am still conversing with other people, whether they know it or not.
So I’m working on uninviting the crowd with me to the beach. It’s hard, and it seems impolite, but the truth is that I’m tripping over them and they’re getting in my way. If I make a point to leave them behind, and only invite them to the conversation if and when we’re actually supposed to talk, I find that my walks are much more enjoyable. Besides, the waves have a much more soothing sound than they do.

Love and uncrowded kisses
Morgan