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May 31, 2012

Brought Out by the Shore

Hold on to the thread  
The currents will shift  

Glide me towards  
You know something's left

And we're all allowed 
To dream of the next

- Pearl Jam / Oceans

From the the age of 8 until about 18, my entire year revolved around the last week of July. My grandparents and some extended family took me down to Paradise City. Well, technically, we drove six eternal hours from southwestern PA to kitschy, crowded, overpriced Ocean City, MD. 

Every day was like awakening on Christmas morning, but this was a seven-day festival of doing, mostly with my good friend and cousin Jason, and the gifts never quit. We had our fill of go-carts, wave runners, water slides, and boardwalk prattle. Yet the best moments occurred during times between the scheduled touristy amusement. I wouldn’t call it waiting, but more like joy.

We outran hundreds if not thousands of breaking waves, hordes of gremlins lunging after us and withering into the sand. The building we stayed in featured a pool and parking garage for skateboarding. It had elevators, 11 stories of open balcony with close proximity to soarable items like grapes and balsa wood airplanes. We sat on the boardwalk, crafting (mostly) harmless pranks of anonymity. 

Our late teenage years at the shore where definitely a let down from all the castle building, boogie boarding, wiffle balling, sand crab catching bliss of our younger years. Jason and I became concerned with the things that young adults should be doing, too busy and mature for simple fun. 

What compelled us to move beyond the wonder of child hood and early adolescence? Was it the new responsibilities and freedoms? Too little sleep? Certainly, there’s something beneficial about boundaries and your grandparents vacation fund to help you through the week. 

One mistake was trying to recapture the same joy and feelings of the old days.Vacation fun became manufactured, more in the atmosphere and reflection on the past.  C.S. Lewis wrote that you have to be surprised by joy. Joy is never found by directly searching for it, but rather happens while doing other things. And that's exactly how pure, remembered-like-it-was-yesterday joy came upon us as children.

These days, a different set of my extended family makes a yearly visit to the east coast, just north of Ocean City MD. I stand, watching my children playing with their cousins. I reflect on the past as I witness real -time joy unfolding all around me. I'm thankful for the chance to genuinely do the simple and fun horseplay that I've been after all along.

The beauty and enormity and power of the shore make me feel small and humble.  Yet at the same time, with the land behind me sloping down to the sea, to the left and right the coast converging upon me, and the ocean rising up and out all the way to the sky in front of me, my place on the waters edge appears to be at the center of a universe.

Joy by reflection and surprise. A sense of smallness and importance. Both perspectives are true, I think, brought out by the shore.