I just returned from a glorious vacation at the beach. A few days before we left, my youngest daughter looked at me and simply said, “I am so glad we are going to the beach. I like you the best when we are there.” I knew exactly what she meant. Almost anywhere else I travel, I like to stay busy doing things, but the beach offers a call to slow down and be still, which I am always grateful for, and which my youngest daughter obviously sees.
I love the ocean. I prop myself under an umbrella and watch the courage of my daughters as they dive under waves or squeal coming in on a boogie board, sometimes running out of the ocean with a shell in their hand to add to the growing pile. It is a special place for them as well, and I sense their joy of freedom. My youngest daughter makes friends instantly with people around us, my oldest disappears into the ocean for quiet time with the waves. The ocean is also where I sift through my troubles and concerns and I visited this time with plenty of both. The waves turn my complaints into soft prayers. I am reminded of seasons, of the balance of storm and peace, of the treasures that are always under our feet, as shells and beach glass become metaphors and promises. The ocean is also where I am always reminded of connection. Whether it is staring at the mystery of all the ocean contains and that straight line at the horizon that reminds me of the absolute mystery that we are here at all or looking around at the wide assortment of people that have come to the water to be, breathe, play, and slow down.
The ocean reminds me that I have dreams to tend and follow, but it also reminds me that I am doing just fine. The ocean reminds me that I can have hard edges and a peaceful depth all at the same time. The ocean holds simplicity and complexity, story and song, and reminds me that all of us do the same.
But this post is not about my love of the ocean, though I could certainly write one, and though I certainly have the ocean to thank for being the backdrop for what I am about to share. This post is about a Spanish speaking family, a woman on the beach walkway, two precious children, and the dream of existing and living together.
Every morning my family went out to the beach to find our “spot” alongside others doing the same, I saw the same woman sitting on the walkway leading to the beach. She was always faced toward the ocean, always in the same place, always with a smile on her face. Her head was wrapped in a scarf. I sensed each time we passed her that she was in reflection and I didn’t want to disturb her, but I always offered a silent prayer when we passed by. Was she at the ocean with troubles and concerns as well? If so, what about the constant smile on her face?
I noticed and welcomed on this trip how diverse the people were around us. It changed every day, obviously. It is always fun to see who gathers together in the same stretch of beach. Where are they from? What joys are they celebrating and/or what troubles are they carrying? Locals, many children of varying ages, a family from Australia, another from France, and then one day, in the middle of the week, a Spanish speaking family (or two…probably 12-15 people obviously there together) that had contagious joy for the ocean and for being together. Many of them were wearing clothes instead of swimwear, which made me wonder if this was a spontaneous trip. No matter. They were laughing and taking pictures. The were sharing a family sized box of Cheez-Its. They were all soaking wet and in the ocean. Oh, how I was happy to share space beside them on that particular day.
Our last day at the beach was bittersweet, as it always is. I’m never ready to come home. My daughters begged for a few more hours at the ocean, and we readily agreed. I was hoping the woman on the walkway would be there, and she was, smiling at the ocean. We were surprised by how many people were already at the beach with umbrellas and coolers in place. To our left, I saw a family with two twin girls with mermaid bathing suits on. I imagine they were around 2 years old and for sure they were precious.
I left our spot to get something out of the car and the woman on the walkway was still there smiling. As I walked by her, I said, “You have the best seat here!” She looked at me and said, “Honey, I am battling cancer with all of my might. When I sit here, I know that I am at God’s table.” After a few more minutes with her and returning to my family, I reflected again on the people around me and what the week had shown me. A few minutes later, I saw the twin girls coming up the beach. They were holding hands, going from umbrella to umbrella, and asking, “You are mine?” They were looking for their parents and collectively, as a beautiful beach community, people under each umbrella would point them to where their parents’ umbrella was.
We said goodbye to the beach soon after, but these beautiful people have stayed with me. I can’t help but thinking about children being separated from their parents in our country right now. Too many to count. Compassion is easy. In that temporary community on the beach on that last day, we all did our part to get those twin siblings back to their parents, with smiles on our faces. What if we opened our hearts to helping others find their way, sharing space, and believing that there is space enough for all?
That beautiful woman on the beach walkway would say that there is plenty of room at God’s table, and I agree. My dreams since returning home have been filled with children asking, “You are mine?” How do you treat others around you? Do you close doors and protect your belongings, or do you believe that there is enough for all? Do you make space for others and know that others deserve the simple joys that you enjoy? Compassion and kindness open space for God to exist.
“You are mine?”
The woman on the beach walkway would surely share her story and listen to yours, and remind you that we’re all here together.
The Spanish speaking family would take children in as their own, creating space and joy and sharing what they have, protecting them until they found their parents.
Those two precious twin children don’t see how we divide ourselves. They are busy picking up shells and watching the ocean and trusting the beauty of the world.
The ocean would say, “Watch my vastness. Consider what I hold…whales and dolphins, and also tiny shells and grains of sand. All belong. You are a child of God. See others as the same.”
How will you answer?