NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… APRIL 2
2018 – SEIZE THE MOMENT.
I just returned from south Florida after taking a ten-day respite from winter’s bite. I was at a small family owned motel on the Atlantic shore where the Gulf Stream sweeps northward. The motel was right on the ocean. The surf lapped at its doorstep and I only had to walk a few feet before I was stepping in sand. I went to bed each night listening to the sound of surf.
I am a creature of habit; those who know me and are judgmentally insensitive might add inflexible. Even on vacation, I prefer routine. Each morning would begin with a cup of coffee on the veranda. I’m an early riser so it would still be dark. First a rosy glow would fill the lower portion of the eastern sky and then an orange globe would arise from the placid ocean.
Once satisfied there had been no overnight upheavals in the universe and the sun remained in its rightful place, I would address my creative impulse by writing a story or working on my blog. That urge satisfied, I would then take a long walk along the beach followed by a swim in the ocean. That was my daily ritual. On Sunday, however, I altered my routine to have breakfast with a friend. Having skipped my morning walk and still desiring exercise, I walked the beach in the afternoon. My morning walks were mostly solitary. There’d be a few people sitting in the sand meditating, an occasional jogger and some kayakers out on the water. The ocean would be serene and tranquil at that early hour, as if saving its energy for later in the day in order to provide wave after wave of surf for delighted swimmers. The air would be still, also waiting until later in the day to unleash its sea breezes.
By the time I took a walk that Sunday, the beach was no longer sparsely populated. In fact it appeared most of south Florida had staked a claim to their place in the sun and sand. Most of the people on a Florida beach fall into one of two categories: young, hip, body beautiful sun worshipers, or old, sagging, wrinkled, overweight sun worshipers. There seems to be little self-awareness in Florida for the latter favored bikinis and thongs as much as the former. The Sunday beach crowd was different in that it was more family-oriented and many did not need the sun to darken the hue of their skin. The whole scene was different and if I sought tranquility the beach was not the place to be. There was screaming, running, laughing, sand castle building kids everywhere and music thumped heavily from boom boxes. To be honest, I was not pleased. Too much noise and too many people. But it was a public beach so what could I do? I took my walk anyway.
I was walking in the sand, gentle surf lapping at my ankles when saw a sight that captured my attention. An African-American family was enjoying the surf as endless waves washed ashore. The family had two young boys, six and eight, who were running wildly about, mostly ignored and gleefully out of control the way young boys can be. The mother and father, both quite overweight, sat in several inches of water. When a wave would come rushing in they would be waist deep in water. Between then, stretched out on his back, was a skinny teenage boy. The boy had some kind of crippling physical condition, cerebral palsy perhaps. His head was toward the ocean and his feet toward shore. When the surf rushed in they’d lift him and hold his head above water. While it washed back out the mother would rub her hand over his stomach and chest. The boy, his face full of what I took to be happiness, would make squeaking sounds of pleasure.
The father would shout cease and desist commands to his two other rambunctious sons, who would settle down and obey anywhere from ten to fifteen seconds before resuming their running, wrestling, sand throwing antics. By that time, the father had already turned his devotion back to his disabled son.
My first reaction when I looked at the kid in the water was sadness, maybe even pity. That quickly passed as I observed the faces of the family members. What I saw was joy, and love. They were a family together, enjoying a Sunday afternoon.
Not a hundred feet down the crowded beach I encountered a similar scene. This time the family was Hispanic and the teenage boy developmentally disabled. Standing waist deep in water, the boy was flanked by who I assumed were his father and brother. The father was a stocky, grizzled, tattooed, hard-looking character and the brother was a handsome kid with typical cocky teenage machismo. The boy standing between them was both physically and mentally out of balance. The mold that had shaped him had been imperfectly cast and his face and body, while not misshapen, were not exactly symmetrical either. Nevertheless I witnessed the same joy. The three of them would jump up in tandem as a wave washed into them, the boy squealing with delight. Again I saw the same tender love and devotion from the family members holding onto his arms.
I’ve been called inattentive because much of the time I miss the obvious. What everybody else sees, I don’t. Instead my eyes wander off the well-lit path and seek out whatever small scenes might be playing on the periphery. Did others see these families, or was their focus elsewhere? There was certainly enough other distractions, like the hip music and bikini-clad bodies.
I appreciate beauty as much as most dirty old men, but today apparently my focus was not on bikinis. I saw yet another seemingly tragic, and yet beautiful, scene. Walking knee deep in the surf were two women. Two women in Middle Eastern dress. Head scarves and long colorful dresses, although they wore no veils. One was older than the other, but not far enough in age to be mother and daughter. Sisters maybe, or friends. The older one had something wrong with her. She walked slightly stooped forward and also bent off to one side. On that side her dress bulged, a huge tumor or growth of some sort ballooning out. The two women walked arm in arm, not caring that the bottoms of their dresses were getting wet, the younger woman supporting the older. They also had the same look of the families with the disabled kids, that particular Sunday afternoon look of the moment. A look of enjoyment, serenity, acceptance. The pleasure of the moment was all that mattered and they contentedly strolled through it.
I’ve have always been someone who has needed a goal, a destination. Not content where I’m at, I desire movement, whether forward, backwards, or sideways, it doesn’t matter. My observations that day were a lesson to not only accept and enjoy, but to seize the moment.
Water has a magical and powerful draw. Despite the elements of danger and excitement, it also has a calming effect. Probably because of that, with its 10,000 lakes and many rivers, is why I’ve spent my life in Minnesota, with occasional forays to an ocean.
As if I needed any more reminders, the morning I departed I saw one last scene. I was up early, packed, and ready to depart for the airport. With a cup of coffee I stood one last time on the veranda. Still dark, the eastern horizon had only a pink hue that would linger for a while before the orange sphere would again rise from the ocean.
Barely discernable, on the beach maybe fifty yards away, I could see two figures. They were standing in the water knee deep. As the sky lightened, I could see them more clearly. A couple, an elderly white couple, eighty-years-old or more, in bathing suits. The ocean was placid, like a huge, still pond. The woman was clutching the man’s forearms, desperately it seemed, and he was supporting her. She looked frightened, unsteady on her feet, and although I couldn’t hear any words, his body language suggested he was offering encouragement. They inched further out, slowly, until they were waist deep. I could sense her reluctance, fear.
They stopped moving forward and just stood there. The sun was above the water now and casting its beam westward. Holding tightly onto his arms, the woman bent her knees slightly, dipping herself a little deeper into the water. She did that once, twice, and was done. With his help she returned to the safety of dry sand. He waded back into the water and immersed himself. With a towel wrapped around the lower half of her body she stood on the beach watching her man swim.
Yet again I witnessed people living in the moment, taking from it what they could. One last gentle nudge to myself to be mindful of life and to be appreciative of whatever is offered no matter how generously or sparingly it is doled out.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers:
We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:
* Lead-In Image – Rafinaded / Shutterstock.com
* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com