This morning I decided to do something I'd longed to do since the summer started. I got up at 5:30 and drove my daughters to Asbury Park to walk the beach before the crowds showed up. I hadn't seen the sea since February, and that was only the Chesapeake Bay.
For someone who grew up in landlocked Nebraska, I have quite an abiding obsession with the sea. When I think of retirement (an impossible dream, I know) I always imagine a cottage in a seaside town. I even have a research project related to sea travel that I have not yet totally abandoned. It's not merely because the ocean is exotic to me as someone who never lived on a coast until I was in my mid-30s. My love of it comes from growing up in the rural Nebraska plains, but out of familiarity. There is something in me that responds to an endless sky like the one I knew back home. It is a reminder of my mortality and smallness, but in a comforting way. What size are my problems, really, underneath a sky that goes on forever?
This morning my children were initially reluctant beachcombers. They complained when I said what we were doing last night, they complained when I woke them up early this morning, and they complained when we were in the car on the way down there. However, when we arrived, they stood still and silent on the boardwalk, staring at the water. The ocean and blue sky under a newly risen sun was truly something to behold.
One we got across the wide beach to dip our toes in the water, something in me seized up and I almost broke down in tears. The cool salt breeze and beauty of water and sky before me were almost too much to handle. In a broken, shitty world gone wrong the sublime had still not abandoned me. After feeling so hopeless for the past few weeks this spark of joy was almost too much to handle, like someone breaking a long hunger strike with a multi-course feast.
I composed myself and stood there, the sun's rays dancing on the waves, which were big and choppy this morning, their roaring ringing in my ears. My daughters were giggling and grabbing mussel shells while dodging the bigger waves. One of them ran up to me and said "Daddy, I want to do this tomorrow!"
Me too, kid. Me too.