Life goes on. It doesn’t stop. It speeds up too and suddenly you find yourself on a beach watching the soft waves of the ocean. It’s a wonderfully calm beach with houses of different sizes and shapes in calming distance from it. Old boats stand here and there and chairs, sometimes with tables, stand up on the grass which slopes down to the tan coloured sand. The sand is soft and just a little seaweed has drifted up. A small bird is hopping in the shoreline, searching for something to eat or just celebrating the spring. You walk in the sand, feeling it’s a bit too warm even for the spring jacket you chose to wear for this little trip.
A couple of swans are diving for fish, unafraid of whoever walks the beach. A boat is floating, tied to a wooden pole that sticks out of the ocean. The boat is bobbing slowly on the waves and it makes a calming noise. You notice a young man, he’s wearing a white shirt and tennis shoes. He smiles at you as you walk past him, and you wonder if that smile had a hint of “who are you and what are you doing on this beach?” in it.
It’s just a hint of paranoia, but paranoia and anxiety are hard to keep a hold of in a place like this. It’s like the mind just lets go of the speed of life and lets you off for a while. Lets you just stroll around in the sunshine, listening to the birds chirp and the waves soft bruise.
When you come to a bridge you walk up to the grass bank and halfway over the bridge, that takes you over a small creek. You notice a large garden, with small cottages, red swings and blooming cherry trees. You stand on the bridge for a while and watch the stillness of it before you turn back and walk the same way you came. You pass the swans that are still searching for food and you find a nice spot to sit on. You sit down on a small tuft, hugging your knees. There are some hard straws on it, but the sand is soft and the grass makes it more comfortable.
You sit there watching the waves. An old man and his dog walk past you. They don’t look your way. Or at least you don’t think so, but he’s wearing sunglasses so he might be checking out the stranger. He vanishes with the dog happily wagging its tail. You sit there, wishing you could stay there, if only metaphorically, forever.
Then you hear a rustling behind you. Slowly you turn your head and notice there’s an old man there. He has parked his bicycle beside one of the old boats and he’s walking your way.
“Good weather today” he says smiling. And you nod your head and tell him you think it’s wonderful. His smile brightens and his eyes search for intent.
“I used to live here” he says. “I was raised in a house up ahead” he points with his crooked finger in the direction you didn’t walk before.
“It must have been nice back then” you say.
He nods his head. “I don’t live by the beach anymore” he says, “sometimes it’s nice to live by the beach, but sometimes it’s very windy”.
“I can imagine” you smile.
“Do you live here?” he asks and you shake your head. You tell him that you’ve never been here before, that you just happened upon this beach this day because of a coincidence and because you were looking for some calm.
“It is very calming” he says, “I come here for the calm as well. I thought it was a time to take a trip to the beach, I was inside all day yesterday. My heart needed to rest. I had an operation”.
“I’m sorry” you tell him, “I hope you’re well now”.
“I’m seventy-seven” he says, “I guess I’m as well as can be expected, but that means an early stage prostate cancer and heart problems” he smiles sadly and you join him in that smile, thinking that in a blink that will be you on that beach telling some younger woman, or man, the ordeals of your old age.
“Life is short” he says, “you need to take a hold of it while there is still time.”
It’s a cliché you’ve heard so many times before, but on that beach, on that day, it rings true and it roots itself deep within you, settles and finds a home.
“I wanted to come back and live here in my old age” he says.
“You didn’t always live here?”
“No, he says” and then he hints at the life he has led, the children he has, the wife that is gone and the homes they made for themselves. He hints at their struggles and their joys, in just a few words you have an image in your head of a man that was born during the war and saw the world grow up.
You know the clock is ticking at the appointment you have is on the horizon. You start to walk slowly to the car you parked right there by the beach and he takes his bike and walks with you, asking if you know anything about cars.
When you part he climbs on his bike, with his flat cap on his head and he raises his hand and says “I’m sorry for disturbing your peace”.
“It was my pleasure” you tell him and hope he hears you, before he rides off like a man half his age.
You stand for a second watching the sea, thinking this is a magical beach. Then you sit down in the car and drive off, thinking of the old man and life, that rushes past you.
And the troubling appointment seems a lot less troubling now. You have perspective, an insight you can’t put into words, but that resides there, inside you, wishing for more of that calm.
Hoping that one day it will be you on that beach sharing snippets of your life with a total stranger, hoping that it too will give that person a sense of peace, as if you’ve seen a topographical image of life and it’s alright. It’ll be alright.
It will be.