I had the pleasure of killing some time at the beach recently, although it seems a disservice to call time so well spent, murdered. It was, in fact, time brought to life.
As I sat in the shade of some unindentified little trees, on the cool, sun dappled sand, listening to the soft little Gulf of Mexico waves roll in, and watching dolphins loll in the calm seas, an endless parade of the elderly passed behind me, strolling and shelling and chatting.
A glance down the beach yielded a landscape of backs bent over in what my grandmother used to call the “Venice Stoop” down her way along the Gulf, but here must be the Honeymoon Island Stoop, for that was the shore upon which I rested. Dozens of older people, and a few younger, walked the beach, heads cocked attentively downward, watching for the glisten of that one special shell. Others hunched over, nose to sand, digging hopefully through the rack line, trying to catch a shell before it rolled away in the surf.
It’s comforting to be among the Shell People. Their quest is a simple and direct one: Find a pretty shell.
In a world rent asunder economically, politically, socially, the quest for a pretty shell reduces life to its simplest terms: Walk, think, gather. Neither the sea nor the shore demand anything of shellers. It’s simply a playground for grown ups, a place where it’s perfectly acceptable for people of any age to sit in the sand and dig and sort shells and talk about the weather or the birds or deeper things if so moved. But typically, on the beach, among the Shell People, the less said the better.
It’s easy to lose touch with ourselves, caught up in the hectic day to day. Most of us know we have full control over how we handle our lives, how we set our hearts and minds to the tasks set before us – 1% what happens to us, 99% what we do about it, and all that.
But here, on the beach, I don’t have to work at being happy and content. Out here, with the sky for a roof and the wind for walls, contentment is just there, like the shells and foamy waves. The Shell People are only outwardly looking for shells, of course. The real treasure is the walk, alone or with friends, in the heart of being. The pretty shells are just souveniers.