There was a couple strolling past that, for me, expressed the essence of the beach. They’d been for married for a long time. You could tell in the careless way they strolled apart and yet together. He with graying hair and loose shirt fluttering over a once-firm belly. She with a sari over her bathing suit, flip-flops, and a large cloth bag. As they strolled past, ankles flush with saltwater, their fingers caught and their hands held. They were both smiling.
The beach is a country of smiles: the kiss of the foam on the shore; the sink of the heel into sand; the curve of the wave as it breaks. The girls squeal as they commit their bare legs to chilly swells and the boys holler as they plunge in. A little girl commands a fleet of shells on the near side of a miniature lagoon, left by the ebbing tide, and a little boy imperiously demands that his father help with the construction of a moat. The father complies.
Best of all is the sound, the majestic music that muffles all others: The rise, crash and rumble of the waves, and then their long sighs
back – steady, unceasing, the earth’s metronome.
I am put in mind of how rare it is to see a grumpy face, a frown or an argument at the beach. In my low chair, I dig my feet into the cool sand beneath the hot and wiggle my toes around. The ladies to our right are chatting; the man and woman to the left are baking; the children are shouting where the sea flounces her restless edges; the sky is awash with blue. What could be better?
Of course, all kinds of studies will tell you that the beach is healthful; people near the beach are generally happier. It’s the ions! It’s the lifestyle. It’s the expectations. For me, it’s visceral memory: I grew up a few blocks from the beach, and for my family, despite all our problems, we were always happy by the sea.
I think it may be just the glorious having-nothing-to-do. It’s the amazing plan-free afternoon. The marvelous shape of deconstructed hours. The future dozes and the past is forgotten. The primal mother embraces our dry skin and flailing limbs; her glittering swells forgive every bodily shape. Even her detritus is treasure: shells washed to pearl and onyx; stones smoothed down to their essence.
At the beach, I bring my books and never begin to read. At the beach, paper and pen hit the sand. Under the hot and brilliant sky, I lean back and listen. Here, bemused intention stretches, yawns, and curls up like a cat. And we the lucky ones head for the edge of the infinite, grabbing its salty cusp one toe at a time.