It took me seven years, but I think I finally get it.
Every June since her birth, my wife has vacationed in North Carolina’s Outer Banks with her family. The first time I accompanied them was 2008. Liz and I were dating at the time, and to be honest, I just didn’t get it. All her family did was wake up, sit on the beach all day, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. Every day. For two weeks.
By day 5, I was bored. By day 8, I had developed cabin fever. By day 10, I begged to leave early so I could make it home for a guys’ night with my friends.
The following year, I considered not going. Not only was money tight, but I thought I would have more fun at home in Ohio. After lots of thought, I decided to go, but I also decided to take my laptop. I wrote the majority of my second novel on that trip. I got heavily mocked for sitting inside playing on my computer while they tanned on the beach, but it was certainly an improvement over 2008.
In 2010, Liz and I were married on the beach in the Outer Banks. It was a wonderful two weeks with friends and family, but a bit of an aberration since you don’t (or shouldn’t) get married every year. I struggled again with boredom in 2011 and 2012 (I like the beach, but I get bored easily, and I’m not very good at “doing nothing”). In 2013, I began to find my rhythm—reading books, doing some writing, sitting under an umbrella, discovering a nearby beach bar, going out to eat—these were all activities I could do with or without Liz that made the trip more enjoyable for me.
But 2014 was different. For the first time in seven years, I finally figured out The Beach.
First, I should explain that Liz and her family call their yearly trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, “The Beach.” Forget that there are probably thousands of beaches throughout the world, in their family, there’s only one beach—The Beach.
I actually think the beaches of the Outer Banks are pretty lame. Hard sand, lots of broken sea shells, rough waves, the murky Atlantic Ocean filled with cold salt water. I’ve been on much nicer beaches—fine sand, calm seas, warm water so clear that you can see the Ocean floor.
But there’s no place else Liz would rather be. And I could never figure out why. Until now.
The Beach is a place, but it’s much more than that to Liz and her family. It’s memories. It’s traditions. It’s comfort and familiarity. It’s a blending of the past, present, and future. As the years begin to mount for me (this was my seventh year at The Beach), I’m starting to understand the appeal. Strangely enough, it’s the oddest tradition that has helped remove my blinders.
In 2008, I was so incredibly bored that I found a movie theater near our beach house and escaped to watch a movie by myself. I’m almost positive it was The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton. I loved it (the experience, no so much the movie). The following year, I found another movie (I think it was the second Transformers flick). Followed by Knight and Day in 2010 (terrible choice, but my other option was Toy Story 3, and I didn’t want to look like a weirdo watching that movie alone in a theater full of kids), X-Men: First Class in 2011, Men in Black III in 2012, Man of Steel in 2013, and X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014.
I get mocked every year for going to a movie by myself, but I love it. Not just because I like time to myself away from family chaos, but because it’s a tradition. It’s The Beach.
It’s different for everyone. For one of my fellow Storytellers, The Beach is his family’s lake house. It could be a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar. It could be a friend, relative, or romantic partner. It could be a pet, stuffed animal, or blanket. It could be a song, movie, or an especially excellent episode of The Golden Girls. (Who am I kidding, every episode was excellent.)
Or, most likely, it’s a combination of multiple places, moments, experiences, and people. They are our home base. Our safety net. Our reminder that heaven may exist in the afterlife, but it can also be found here on Earth.
Find your beach (sorry Corona). Cherish it. Cling to it in times of need. Invite others into it to share your joy. And, perhaps most importantly, never apologize for it.
Photo courtesy of Steve Fuller