Life should be like the third day at the beach.
The third day is when you settle into that comfortable pattern of pleasures. Having come to terms with where you are in the world and your place in it (a three-minute walk down the boardwalk takes you over the dunes to toes in the sand, due west is the phosphorescent sunset, your villa is at mile marker 103), the hectic pursuit of relaxation and satisfaction falls away and you are actually living it. You are there.
Rare moments of indecision, of irritation, no longer faze you (Should I take a beach walk now or read in the room? Now, where did I put my glasses?) because you are at that place that brings you closer to clarity. To simplicity. To a sense of control.
Yet scraping at the edge of your awareness is a sharp reminder that the comfort cannot last. That your peace of mind is fleeting and that something else is destined to intrude on your pattern.
Eventually you must get back to whatever it is that you must do. To waking up to an alarm clock and taking lunch breaks between 12 and 2, to presenting projects to your boss and worrying that your work isn’t up to par. And to that constant buzzing in your brain that zaps you with your inferiority – that you don’t make enough money, that you’re really not that talented, and you’ll never get that book written – and forget about ever getting it published!
You dream of dropping everything, selling everything you own and affording a tiny old cottage -- maybe with a rickety screened door leading to a back-porch view of a marsh, where in the quietest times of day, if you concentrate, you can at least hear the sea.
You imagine a trip to the beach that is really a trip home. Where your body rhythms are in tune with the tides, your days filled with writing and reading and writing some more and your nights of rest are as sure and predictable as the sound of the waves.
But for now, you wave goodbye.
Clutching sand dollars.
We must have been no more than nine years old, my best friend Debbie and I. We shared a magnetic attraction to things yet to be discovered, to mysteries and exploring the unknown. One of our favorite TV shows, in fact, was called The Unknown that creeped us out with strange outer-space creatures and dark, freaky imagery that gave me nightmares but nevertheless I could not stop watching.
My attraction to the impenetrable was nurtured by years of reading the Bobbsey Twins books, where children just like us would mark their passage through time by exploring the clues to secrets, secrets inevitably resolved by the discovery of valuables or documents or cherished jewels hidden away somewhere in an attic or fallout shelter or behind a false door.
The Bobbseys’ adventures were by today’s standards quite tame, and perhaps that’s why they had such enduring appeal. My day-to-day suburban life felt secure to the point of boredom, and if other ‘normal’ kids could experience such excitement while on a trip to the beach or visiting their cousins or hanging out near their house, there was hope that an adventure was waiting for me around the corner.
It was the clues, I think that I was drawn to more than discovering any actual buried treasure. Thus, Debbie and took on the role of neighborhood detectives, and everyone we encountered was hiding something, and up every driveway lived a person of interest. That yellow car that always turned the corner of our street at about the same time every day. The little man with the floppy hat and the button-down olive-green sweater, boring down in a fast walk and never looking up during his afternoon constitutional, as if being chased and up to no good. The gray-haired woman in the blue dress, her face caked in powdery white makeup and deep-red lipstick, holding tight to her black purse, obviously bewitched, intent on getting to her destination. The kid who rode his bike in endless circles, round and round, never saying a word.
Debbie and I formed our own two-person club whose sole purpose was to keep secrets and regard every person with suspicion. And then there was that old burned-out house where all that remained was a piece of brick wall and a chimney. We called ourselves The Mystery Club, and regularly met behind the brick wall to discuss our investigative work, sharing the diaries we kept containing detailed notes about our observations.
Since clues were scarce and buried treasure was not imminent, we decide to bury our own treasure. In a cardboard box, we carefully laid our diaries and trinkets we had picked up in our travels up and down our adjoining streets. We agreed that the best, most protective place to keep our cardboard box safe was deep in the ground behind the brick wall near the burned-out chimney. Surely, our box would there be preserved forever.
I remember the musty, damp, earthy smell of the dirt, when, weeks later, we dug up our Mystery Club box to ensure it had not been tampered with by any untoward persons. We had not counted on the wetness of Georgia red clay during that typically hot, humid summer. Still, what remained of the box was in the ground where we had buried it, and there lay our diaries, most pages unreadable.
In that ground lay the ‘groundwork’ for my career aspirations. I had set the stage to become a journalist, someone who observes, asks questions, writes, asks more questions and reports. Interestingly, I was not a particularly outgoing child; I was even shy and self-conscious around people. Inside, however, I was constantly questioning…
The questioning, I realized much later, was an expression of what would become the energizing force of my spirit. My essential desire was to understand life and people and grasp the metaphysical “reasons why” of the universe. Why am I here? What is my relation to the world? What gives meaning to existence?