A Day at the Beach/Beautiful Sadness/Existential Musings
June 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
To most people, the ocean means sunblock and potato chips gritty with sand. It means sneaking up on an unsuspecting sibling, attacking them with an armful of seaweed, splashing them with chilly, bubbling foam. It’s relaxing, its fun. It’s plastic buckets and chipped seashells and yells from shore that warn not to go out too far, to be careful. Because this sparkling blue beauty can swallow you up.
From a young age, the ocean meant something far different to me. I got a strange feeling in my stomach standing by the lapping waves, a feeling that made me look at my hands as if I had never seen them before, as if I couldn’t remember who I was. Sadness engulfed my heart, especially watching the orange ball of sun sink towards the waves at the end of the day. I couldn’t explain it, but something about the colorful sky, the streaks of pink and orange, the quiet motion of the waves made me feel. Feel strongly. And it wasn’t even that I was relishing in the picturesque landscape, appreciating the beauty. Instead I felt a complete, undeniable, aching sadness in my soul. A sadness that lingered while my cousins and I fruitlessly attempted to rinse our sandy feet before piling into the minivan, while the grown-ups shouted instructions about beach chairs and coolers. I’d stare out at the sea until it was out of sight, desperately trying to understand something far beyond my reach.
I’ve experienced this feeling in other venues. Standing beside the Grand Canyon when I was 11. Walking through a patch of woods by a main road and stopping to rest at a tiny, trickling stream. Each time, that sudden sense of loneliness. Perhaps not even loneliness. Of just loneness. Of being utterly alone in all the universe. Of realizing that we all are. I felt cursed by the nature that surrounded me for reasons that I could not understand. In their beauty, I suppose, they reminded me that I, somehow, existed. And for me, that news was hard to swallow.
I remember trying to explain this feeling to a close friend while walking down to the beach in the middle of the night. I’m a teenager, now. The beach does not signify the same chipped shells or games of Marco Polo. It means sneaky parties, like the kind at the beginning of Jaws, where that hippie gets eaten by the shark.
She frowned in confusion as I tried to patch together a coherent explanation of my feelings. “Oh, but it’ll be beautiful in the moonlight!” She tells me. “Here, have a beer.”
It was beautiful. Beautifully painful. I couldn’t see the waves, except when they glowed eerily in a sliver of moonlight. But I could hear them. In, out. They hardly whispered in their steady rhythm. The sand was cold beneath my feet, and when I dug my hands into them, a million individual grains scattered. I picked up a single grain and tried to appreciate its age, its history, its presence in the here and now. My friends were preoccupied with clinking bottles and letting out huge, echoing laughs that seemed like they should disturb the water, but they didn’t. In, out went the waves. Whisper, whisper. I laid down, letting the millions of particles of sand nestle around my form, and let the feeling overwhelm me. That crushing sense of Whoever you are, you’re alive in a world that really makes no sense at all.
In these moments, I think of those existential thinkers, writers. I imagine them standing by the waves of the same ocean, the same sun hanging low in the sky. I see them sigh while the ocean takes no notice at all.
In, out. In, out.