A few days before my family and I left for a vacation in California, my little one told me that she had been reading my blog, and it made her sad. It’s certainly not something that I wanted to hear, so I decided to ask her why.
“You tell stories about the run and jump and other things we don’t do anymore, and I miss them” she told me.
I told her that I wrote stories here so that she and I could have a record of them, and if we outgrew them one day–and we’re bound to do with most things–we can look back at them fondly. And if some stranger we’ve never met before wants to read the stories, that’s OK too. Better to have the stories than to rely on our memories, which are wonderful things but are not always as reliable as they could be.
My reply seemed to satisfy her, and I was reminded of our conversation a few days later, when we were on a beach near Pacific Grove, California. We were on the 17 Mile Drive, which I had never heard of before and now I’ll hardly ever forget it. But there’s a story to tell that I hope she finds some day.
The waves came crashing in, as they always have done before, and the two of us decided to turn this experience into a race. We would walk out toward the water as the wave was coming in, and after it crashed and the water came ashore, we’d begin to backpedal, all the while saying “back…back…back” as if this would keep the water away from us.
A successful round was going all the way back before the water reached your toes or–in my case–your shoes. It was fun because even if you misjudged the wave’s size or speed, the worst that would happen is some surprisingly cold water would touch your feet. With all of the hardships in the world, a few moments of trying to outrun an ocean wave felt like a rare treat.
We called our game “Back…Back…Back” and I’d be surprised if we ever had an occasion to play the game again. But it marked our time on the beach that day, and proved to me that while some games might be outgrown or cast aside, our love and our ingenuity never will.
I remember this picture well. It was taken in late December of 1999, as we had traveled to Sanibel Island, Florida, to celebrate the coming of the new millenium. Fears of Y2K were in the air. Remember that? It seems silly now, all these years later, but the idea that computers would get all wiggy when the year switched to 00 had great currency, at least in some quarters.
But I had other concerns at that point in my life. My first daughter was born in April, which would have made her almost nine months old when this picture was taken. We hadn’t yet gone over to digital photography–that was still a few years away–and so this picture had to be taken in to be developed. There are now boxes and boxes of these prints, gathering dust in the basement of the house, bearing silent witness to one of the many changes that have come about during her lifetime.
She looks so happy in this picture. Sitting up was probably a new thing at this point, and I think it was the first time she had ever experienced sand, too. But the little grin on her face tells me a lot. She was having fun, and as a parent that’s the best you can ever hope to see.
The little girl playing in the sand starts high school tomorrow, and the relentless march of time will only get quicker over these next four years. She’s brought me more joy than I ever would have imagined, and I hope that it’s been as much fun for her as it has been for me.
The separation process that inevitably happens between a parent and a child will become more pronounced, now that she’s around older kids and finds it harder and harder to live under her parents’ roof. I know that feeling because I remember it myself.
For now, I’ll smile and hope that she gets off to a good start in her new school. I hope she gravitates toward those who will build her up and make her better, rather than those who will tear her down. There are both kinds of people in the world, and learning to tell the difference between them is never an easy thing. But I’ll hope for the best, and be there to help her out in any way that I can. That’s in a parent’s job description, isn’t it?
Come to think of it, that’s the entire job description.
My eight year-old daughter simply loves to read. And one of the things that comes with reading, it seems to me, is a proclivity to write. Naturally, this is something that I’d like to encourage in whatever way I can.
When I came across this poem–buried in one of her folders at the annual end-of-the-school-year backpack cleanout–I knew that it had to see the light of day, somehow. And so, I proudly present my younger daughter’s first published poem (since there’s a “Publish” button that I have to click to share this with the world):
It was a beautiful March night.
The wind was whirling around me.
I was doing cartwheels in the sand.
I was walking by the shore.
I looked down at the sand and…
A dead fish!
I’m out of here!
I’d call this a pretty promising start, but I admit that I’m a bit biased. And now it’s out there, for all the world to see. Others will follow, as they are discovered.
Wednesday morning, Wellfleet, Mass. Summer vacation stretches endlessly before me, even if I know that’s not the case. Summer is never endless, except in a few places that I wouldn’t want to live. And vacation, well, if it were endless I could never afford to take one. But it sure felt that way earlier this morning.
I drove to the beach–a pond beach, if anyone really wants to know–and parked under a shady tree. The afternoon was supposed to be hot, and anything that can be done to plan for it is a good thing. I crossed the street, careful to avoid the cyclists that were buzzing through the streets, and walked down a staircase toward the water.
At the bottom of the staircase, there was a narrow strip of sand maybe four feet wide. There were two blankets placed on the sand, one of which was unoccupied and one which was in use by a skinny boy of about nine or ten. He saw I was coming, got up and said “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t really in a hurry, and I could have walked around him without any trouble at all. In fact, that was just as I was planning to do.
I saw something of myself in this kid, even though I have no idea of who he was and what his story is. But I was once a kid who felt like everything was bad and I was doing something wrong. In the intervening years, I have learned that it’s no way to live.
And so I looked at the kid, gave him a not-to-worry smile, and said “Life’s too short to be sorry.” And I meant it, too. From the time I was his age, until this morning’s walk toward the pond beach, I’ve seen plenty of examples to support that premise. And whether or not this kid really felt bad, he had no reason to do that, and I wanted him to know this.
Was I saying that there’s never any reason for remorse? Not at all. When other people are hurt by our actions, then some genuine remorse is called for. But from my perspective, the sort of reflexive apology that this young kid offered to me this morning has no real meaning.
He smiled back at me as I was walking past, and that was the end of our encounter. Whether he ever thinks about it again, I can’t say. But as for me, and the experiences I’ve gained over the past decades of living, I wish someone would have pointed out how short life is. And how important it is to feel good about yourself while you’re here.
The truth is that you can spend as much of your life as you want to feeling bad about yourself and what you’re doing on this earth. Or, you can take a different approach altogether. You’re in your little part of the world, and I’m in mine. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, most likely, and so offering up empty words like “I’m sorry” don’t really help either of us out very much.
I have come to the reasoned position that most apologies, whether sincere or not, are just a waste of breath. What’s worse, they cheapen the words for those times when they truly are called for.
If ever I write a book, which is about as likely as me swallowing this computer keyboard whole, I want it to have the same name as this post. Because I apologized to everyone and everyone, whether I needed to or not, for several decades over the course of my life. And not one of these apologies ever changed a thing.
So say whatever you’re going to say, young man on a beach in Cape Cod, but don’t say that you’re sorry. I don’t need to hear it, and you don’t need to say it. And for anyone else who may ever come upon this, please do likewise. We’ll both be better off for it.
I live in a part of Chicago that has a large Orthodox Jewish population. This means that every Saturday (or shabbos), there are Orthodox families walking to or from their religious services. And the most distinctive element of their dress, as far as the men are concerned, is the hat that they wear on their heads. A hat can top off your look, and tell the world something about who you are.
I named my blog after a form of a hat, but I don’t actually wear it because it does funny things to my hair. Since I’m lucky enough to have all my hair still in place, a hat can provide cover on the days when it’s just doing its own thing. I wear baseball hats a lot, either for the Cubs, or Northwestern, or Jack Daniel’s (which has taken on an ironic twist since I gave up drinking), and I find the backward look suits me just as well as the more traditional look.
But the hat I like best, and the reason I’m writing this post, is the Cubs floppy hat that I’m wearing right now. A floppy hat makes a statement, in its own way. People might see it and wonder if I’m heading off to a beach somewhere. Even though it’s a warm, sunny day here in Chicago, the beach is not on the agenda. But the beach mentality will be, and so the hat is still appropriate.
What is the beach mentality, you might ask? Well, if you’ve been to a beach before you know what it is, but for the purposes of this post I’ll try to put it into words. It’s the belief that:
- Life is short, and the best way to find enjoyment is to go to a happy place. Get there physically, or get there emotionally, and you’ll be much better off for it.
- You have to appreciate nature for the beauty and continuity it provides, but also understand that every wave is temporary and fleeting.
- Every wave washes shells ashore, which are proof that life comes and goes and, if you’re lucky, you will leave a little something behind when you’re gone.
- The day won’t last for very long, but as long as you’re at the beach you can either find a spot you like and set down roots, or keep moving around to see how the view changes.
- Beach toys, like all material possessions, can add something to the enjoyment (if you have kids along), but they aren’t so important that leaving something behind would be a disaster.
- Nothing that goes on at the beach is terribly important, since ten minutes from now our attentions will be focused on something else, anyway, and
- Leaving the beach doesn’t make any of these statements less true.