It’s easy to live in the moment when one is at the beach; the moments are awesome. Amazing. Wednesday, in water up to my waist, I saw, for the first time in my life, about 10 feet away from where I stood, a slick grey fin slide up, cruise along, and then disappear again into the water. For a moment, I was frozen. I grew up in the era of Jaws, and could hear the theme music in my head. Before I could react, however, something amazing happened – bursting forth from the water came the fin’s owner - a sleek, beautiful dolphin. She leapt up then plunged underneath again. And she was not the only one. For the duration of our time on the beach that day, the dolphins leapt and played nearby.
What a blessing. That my son got to see the dolphins as well multiplied the blessing for me. A beautiful memory. A beautiful day.
I’ve moved away from the aspiration of life being about creating professional personal empires. As Paula Deen and many before her have shown us, empires can crumble. I want to live as big and full and rich of a life as possible, not live primarily to achieve some sort of fame or distinction in my field. Not anymore. Standing in the ocean while dolphins leapt before me was a sweet, sweet moment. Everything was perfect. There was no fear, no hurt, no worry, no concern. There was just the present, and it was pure joy.
That evening, at my friend’s home, my son found a cicada. Remembering the cicada buzz of two years ago, I was reminded of the first time one landed on his face. I rarely take pictures, but I have photos of that. His eyes are closed and his mouth is open in laughter. Pure joy. Remembering that picture, I take another. My son will be nine in December. On the drive home Thursday he sighed in the backseat, remembering the long-awaited vacation. “It goes by so fast,” he frowned. And he’s right. It does.
A new mother wails to me about loss of sleep and adjusting to her changing role, and I listen, because I know it is so hard, and she needs someone to listen. I remind her to be present for all of it, even this, because childhood does not last forever. Nothing does. Our lives are composed of moments. When we are at the top, it’s glorious, but we are not the empires we build or the children we have or the trips we have taken or the reputations we’ve established. We are not what we own, what we make, what we’ve done, or what others think of us. Watching another’s world crumble as a result of poor choices makes me want to hold tightly to my own little empire, but of course, this is impossible. As Robert Frost so eloquently stated, nothing gold can stay. Backing out of a driveway at the beach this week, I hit a post, leaving dents and streaks of paint down the side of my still-new-to-me car. I shrugged it off. “It’s why I have insurance,” I say. Years ago, it might have ruined the entire trip for me, but not now. I've grown up.
I was once told it takes an average of 40 years for a human being to mature. As I approach this landmark birthday myself, I am inclined to agree, although I thought I was plenty mature at 20 and 30. Now I realize there are many ways in which we must grow up, many trials we must face and some we’ll fail but it is only when we cease to leap that we cease to live. And there are little maturities, too. I trade my Nomadic State of Mind hippie rope sandals for sleek Sanuk flops, my hobo bags for elegant purses. I am grown, and I want to be grown. I am an adult; I can do whatever I like. But watching Paula Deen sob on television, I’m reminded that there is one emotion that seems impervious to time, that persists beyond moments and memory: regret. We can do what we like, yes...but we can never undo what has been done. I can’t undo the moment I looked away and hit the post. I know the damage to my car is my fault, and no one else’s. I can accept this, because when it comes to things I know I’ve wrecked, chances I’ve blown, mistakes I’ve made…paint and dents on a car door is nothing.
Wanting more beach time, I book a cottage at the Isle of Palms, not worrying about expense, but trusting that all will be provided. A few hours later, the phone rings. A job offer. I accept not only the job, which will more than pay for the cottage, but the knowledge that like the dolphins, I too, need to leap from still waters in order to breathe, to live. We’ll end our summer on the island because I leapt, and the net appeared.
How many dolphins have I missed seeing because I didn't do this more often?