In praise of the sea

[For a while, I was a regular contributor to a blog for a resort on Martha’s Vineyard. In order to save some time – and in the spirit of recycling – please accept this repurposed post from that blog.]


The ocean is a marvelous place. It is literally a place of marvels. People travel from deep in the interior sections of a continent just to spend a few days in its proximity. As they near it, their hearts – if not their voices – resonate with that of William Clark who cried at his first sight of the Pacific, “Ocian in view! O! The joy!” We are willing to spend a massive premium for the privilege of an ocean vista, disregarding the dangers it poses.

DSCN0194It only takes a few minutes at the beach to realize that there is more to it than sand and water. Peter Kreeft, prolific author and professor of philosophy at Boston College, has caught this vision. He says that by God’s design, “the ocean is a perfect toy: always there, always willing to play with you, just dangerous enough to be exciting, never needing replacement, unbreakable, never boring, and you don’t even have to put it away when you’re finished playing with it. Watch how little kids treat it; they know what it’s for.”

DSCN0192Indeed, no one seems to appreciate the beach like a child. The little girl has no need of a “beach book” or a radio to pass the time. Her younger brother isn’t concerned with making a fashion statement or getting the perfect tan. The sand, shells, waves, sun, and breeze all provide more than enough distraction for the most innocent among us. And if they have the proper tools, who knows what imaginative creations they may construct in the sand?

DSCN0191My preferred portion of coastline is on Martha’s Vineyard. In spite of its often overbearing crowds, South Beach is where I head for my ocean fix. The power of the surf there is humbling, more than once leaving me tumbling in its foamy aftermath. The shoreline goes on almost to the vanishing point in either direction. One can stroll its shifting sands in peace for hours.

DSCN0190You never know what wonder you will encounter along that stretch of shoreline. There is a seemingly endless variety of birds to watch – some skittering in the shallow surf, some repeatedly diving headlong into the waves foraging for a meal. While lacking an abundance of shells, there are yet some prizes to be found for the diligent. Patience and a keen eye may also reward you with a rare seal or dolphin sighting.

DSCN0186Those who lug their laptops, cell phones and iPods to the beach will have their reward, I suppose. I prefer to follow the lead of the little ones. When it comes to the ocean, they know the magic it holds better than “adults”.

Life is long… and short

Is it possible for two seemingly opposite statements to both be true? On the face of it, the answer would be no, but not so fast. We deal with such incongruities all the time.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting that as a true statement. Yet, we’ve all experienced the veracity of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Christian theology is filled with such contradictions. God is one but God is three. We have free will, but God is sovereign and predetermines our eternal fates.

When it comes to one particular adage, I can’t disagree with one of my favorite characters from another of my favorite under-appreciated movies: Lamarr from “That Thing You Do” says:

"Slow down, young squire. Life is long."
“Hey, hey, hey! Slow down there, young squire. Life is long.”

Lots of folks say life is fleeting and you have to squeeze as much into every moment as possible. But if Lamarr says life is long, who am I to disagree? He’s one of my heroes and he’s never steered me wrong. Think about the last time you were in the dentist chair. Did life go by fast? Or when you’re waiting for the results of a job application or medical test? Or for the writers out there, how about when you’re waiting for a response to a query letter?

In those cases, and in many others, life is indeed looooooooooooooooooong.

At the same time, life is way too short. If you have kids, you know exactly what I’m talking about. One day, they’re potty-training, seemingly the next, they’re finishing a doctoral thesis on string theory (or string cheese; I can never tell the difference). Life couldn’t go any faster than that.

I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to declare how life speeds up as you age. The more years behind you, the shorter the ones ahead. A classic example: When I was in school, summer lasted forever. Those two months, after all, were a significant percentage of my life. Now they represent a miniscule fraction of the whole and the season’s gone before I’ve had time to make vacation plans.

None of this is new; everyone pays lip service to it. But few behave any differently in the face of the increasing velocity of life. Ironically, Lamarr’s advice applies here as well, “Slow down, young squire.” Appreciate the fleeting moment. Get off the information superhighway.

Instead of giving more and creating more, we (myself included) bury ourselves, our gifts, and our talents in a jumble of iDevices, sports, lame TV and movies, innumerable tweets, and more added to the mess every day.

To once more quote the incomparable Lamarr, “Now where I come from, that just ain’t right.”