This starts off sounding a little sad, but stay with me, I promise you a triumph of the spirit at the end.

My friend, Jill, who is wise well beyond her years, told me about an article she read saying that we don’t always recognize our “last times” when they happen. You don’t realize it’s the last time when you put down your child, and he never asks to be picked up again. You don’t realize when it’s the last time you put the spoon in his mouth, or read him a book, or hold him in that little dinosaur float before he learns how to swim well enough he doesn’t have to hold on to you any more.

Now, on the other side of adulthood, when my children are grown and I am instead taking care of my mother, I have a slightly different application for this idea. My mother lives in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, and it is a true drama just to get her out to lunch. The last time I brought her back from Nashville, our hometown, we did not realize it was the last time she would ever be there. The last time she saw her cousin, Derry, was probably the last time she will ever see her as they are both older and find travel very hard, but at the time they just said. “See you soon.”

And…she will never again see the ocean.

This thought stayed with me every minute that I was there. Understand, she does not ask to go to the beach. In fact, she gets tired after 30 minutes on the patio and asks to go back to her room. But sometimes the circumstances of life happen so that you do not go back to someplace, or do something, that you take for granted you will always do. I am healthy, and God willing I have many long, happy years ahead of me, but maybe, just maybe I will not pass that way again.

This is where the triumphant part comes in. Thank goodness Jill opened my eyes so I could see this truth. It has given me new purpose and new perspective on everything that I do. I am concentrating hard (imagine me sitting with my eyes squeezed shut to focus on the sounds and then opening them wide to take in all the beauty) on living in the moment and being aware of all the cool things that are going on around me. I want to take it all inside me and be able to play it all back in my mind like a movie, complete with sounds and scents and feelings.

What does the movie of this beach visit look like? First of course is that amazing, impossibly flat, infinite horizon. Then there is the way the sun sparkles like a magnificent tile mosaic, except constantly changing, constantly in motion. Next is the surging water, rising, rising, rising as it gets close to land and then falling over into frothy, churning waves that swell up on the beach burying my feet in the sand on the way in, and pulling the ground out from under me on the way out. Birds fly low over the water looking for their next meal with…well…a bird’s eye for fish that I can’t see. The backs of the dolphins with their easily recognizable dorsal fins roll in and out of the water  in the dolphin equivalent of trailing your hand through the water when you are reclining on a float in the pool. I am particularly fond of dogs running into and out of the water, putting their noses down to smell the beach, and then shaking their heads in surprise when the surging water catches them.

What does it sound like? The waves crash and flow, in and out, and this time I was struck by how it can sound so much like thunder that I look in the sky to be sure what I heard. Birds call, of course, and children squeal and scream, sometimes with joy, and sometimes they are a little afraid. It is so big, and they are so small.

The smell and the taste are so intricately tied together, they must be considered as one experience. Nothing else smells like the salty sea, and you can taste the salt on your lips just from walking there. It smells like fish, too, but not in a horrible, fishy way. It smells like…life.

The warm sun and the cooling spray on your skin–these complete the festival of the senses that is a visit to the sea. So the take away is not to dread when it is over, but to be euphoric that it happened. A visit to the ocean is a wonderful thing, and if you get to do it one time or many times, it is an experience that you will never forget.

And, by the way, I’ll write about it to help you remember.


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