I sat on Siesta Key Beach this morning. I like to arrive early to get my spot and enjoy the sound of the waves breaking on shore. I have this system. It makes me boring or so I’ve been told. Whatever, it works for me. The system is to arrive early before the crowds and enjoy the silence before…well you know what happens on a popular beach.
My wife and I normally travel together where we enjoy the beach together. Three years ago we didn’t make the trip “because there was so much to do before our daughter’s wedding.” I’m still not aware of the lengthy laundry list, maybe that’s because I’m a guy, again or so I’ve been told. Our son is getting married in June and I asked my wife in October “we aren’t going to Florida next year?” She responded, “How can we? Stephen is getting married and there’s so much to do.” I’m still unaware of the lengthy laundry list or once again, maybe it’s because I’m a guy. Anyway, here I sit, by myself. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying. Before I left I said to my wife, “Maybe I’ll go without saying a word.” She asked “why”? and I told her I was curious what it might be like to go an entire week without uttering a word since as a social worker there is seldom a time during the day when I am quiet.
A few months ago watching the CBS Sunday Morning News I watched a story about John Francis, PhD. After watching the story I felt I needed to download and read his book titled, “Planet Walker.” The book chronicles his struggle to save oil-soaked birds and restore blackened beaches left him feeling frustrated and helpless. He decided to take a vow of silence which lasted 17-years. His vow began as a silent environmental protest. He hoped to expand the concern of other people to many of the environmental concerns of the 70’s. His walk and accompanying silence expanded beyond concern about pollution and loss of habitat to include how we humans treat each other and how we can better communicate and work together to benefit the earth. Through his silence and walking, he learned to listen, and along the way, earned college and graduate degrees in science and environmental studies.
I woke this morning without the aid of an alarm knowing the quiet and solitude of the beach awaited me. I was not to be disappointed. I set up my chair and umbrella. I slathered on the sunscreen because having come from Northern European ancestry I get really white in the winter and I burn…easily. I walk a couple of miles on the beach. I say nothing. I look down most of the time to see what the Gulf of Mexico has washed up for me to see. When I do make eye contact with others I do the “acknowledgement nod.” I acknowledge your presence but I am not looking for a conversation or a friend. I you stop me and want to engage in a conversation, I will talk to you and after several minutes of wandering away from my Introverted roots I become uncomfortable and look for a way out. I try to not be rude but I cannot help your perceptions. It’s just that I enjoy my silence. One of my favorite essayists, John Burroughs had this to say about the role which nature played in his life. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs. One of my favorite books by John is titled “The Art of Seeing Things.” In this writing he said, “So far as seeing things is an art, it is the art of keeping your eyes and ears open.” My dad who was not much of a reader and who does not of John Burroughs would tell me something similar when I was growing up. He would remind me to “Keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth closed and the opportunity to learn will be forever mine.” “The eye sees what it has the means of seeing, and its means of seeing are in proportion to the love and desire behind it. The eye is informed and sharpened by the thought” another quote from John and the same book.
For me there is much beauty in a beautiful sunrise and sunset. The sunrise is special because it reminds me of my grandmother with whom I had the pleasure to be with when she passed. I called a friend from her room and told her of her passing. The friend asked me if there was a window in her room. I replied, “There is.” She directed me to go to the window and tell her what I saw. I replied, “I see the sun rising.” She said to me, “That;’s your grandmother.” As Forest Gump aid, “That’s all I can say about that.”
As I sat on the beach this morning enjoying a cigar, a good book on my Kindle, the sound of the waves and the solitude, I watched a couple set up their chairs and umbrella. Shortly they were joined by another couple. Within minutes I realized my joy would be challenged by his loud, obnoxious comments which with the blowing wind seemed to carry even further. Instead of becoming angry I was reminded by John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau that this is an individual who does not share the same love and respect for silence which I have. For that I feel sad. I feel sad for him.
I hope you look in silence at those things in your life which like most of us have become meaningless because we see them everyday and now pay them no attention. There is much beauty to be seen and much to learn if we just approach them with our eyes and ears open and our mouths closed.