On Beauty, Part II
The Beachside Resident - October 2009

(This is the second of a two-part series. The first explored the beauty found in everyday moments, and contemplated the choice we are all given: whether to seek this beauty out consciously, or else to ignore it.)

I was surfing alone last week, alone in a warm, green sea all simmering with seaweed, with the onshore winds ripping at my hair, and the tattered and broken waves bumping up the surface.

Why was I alone? Probably because it was Tuesday, we were coming off a good, clean swell the previous weekend, there were rumors of sea-lice in Satellite Beach, and the sets were maybe four feet at best. Nonetheless, there I was: low tide, a long period swell coming in, and a wobbling line of shadow steadily advancing from the horizon. I turned, paddled, and dropped in at an angle just as the wave crested and converged with another. These moments are like butterflies — so airy, intangible… The face pitched to vertical, I crouched low, and for a fleeting instant I was locked in, encircled by cool green water.

I shot out into the open and found the high line, took four quick steps to the nose, let the cool air rush beneath my toes, arched back, took in one deep, glorious breath, stepped back to the tail, and headed back for the foamy reform. Now the wave pitched up over the inside sandbar — smaller, faster, more critical. I crouched low again, and again I tucked into a white-green barrel, shot like a bullet onto the shoulder, and kicked out over the top, blissed out, my spirit soaring heavenward.

Meanhile, the everyday world of the mainland was spinning as hectically as ever, agonizing its poor head over the important issues of the day — health insurance, car payments, taxes, bailout money, celebrity gossip… ah, society, where you can be anything you want… rich, poor, conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat… endless choices! Endless responsibilities! Endless nonsense! What is any of it worth without these moments of pure, unfettered beauty?

Listen: it happened on a Tuesday. Yes, I realize I might have been doing something more productive than surfing, but there, it happened, about 100 yards north of O’club, in four-foot slop nobody else deemed worth of swimming into, with only the mullet and pelicans to bear witness… it happened... the best wave of my life!

Another best wave of my life followed about fifteen minutes after that one. In fact, it seems I catch the best wave of my life almost every time I go surfing, nowadays. That’s not to say my surfing skills are improving, or even the quality of the waves; rather, I think am getting better at appreciating my time out there.

Remember: beauty can strike anywhere, at any time, even on dry land. If you keep alert, your senses keen and poised to accept it when it shows itself, you may find exquisite beauty even in the most mundane situations. Take a run to Publix for example –– to pick up bread and milk, something we all do. Even this trivial task has potential. You might find yourself floating along the polished white floors when suddenly the cereal boxes, the rows of cheeses and juices, the soup cans, all the multi-colored jumbled bottles and packages blur in the periphery, and the ivory corridor shimmers before you. Soft, heavenly music wafts down from above, an angelic man in a green smock approaches, smiles, and asks if he can help you with anything. No, nothing, you say. Nothing at all. You drift on weightlessly, and for no other reason than because you deemed it so, your worries and pressures melt away in one cool, ephemeral moment. In that instant, all is right and perfect in the world.

Of course, such sanctity cannot be found in every predicament. Adversity is natural. Daily issues have a way of knocking out your focus. But if you remind yourself to seek out the beauty in the moment, even during times of sacrifice, you can find joy in places you never before thought possible.

Try it sometime. Next time you’re pumping gas into your car, take a moment to study the motion of the clouds. If low tide is at 10 p.m., go for a starry bike ride on the beach. Stroll around town just after a rainstorm. Smell the freshly-washed leaves. Tilt your face into the last drops of the sunshower. Raise your eyes to the sky. You might be astounded by a double rainbow.

Last night, I was sitting on the dock, my feet dangling over the water, when a dolphin erupted from the river and actually brushed my toes with its dorsal fin. I jumped to my feet, startled. The outline of the creature’s body glowed in a neon blue radiance below the surface. The river was alive with bioluminescence, and the swimming dolphin was stirring it up, fanning a sapphire spray with each thrust of its tail. Moments later, still rapt from this thrilling encounter, I saw a shooting star scream across the night sky, trailing orange fire behind it as if from sparkler. The meteor traced an impossibly long line through the blackness, and finally burned out in flame as bright and red as a Delta Heavy rocket. Was it a coincidence that these two seemingly unrelated, magical incidents occurred in the same night night? Dumb luck that I had been there to witness them? Or was it because I had been sitting there on that very dock, gazing at that same sky and river for the past forty nights? Perhaps it had taken all that time to make me worthy of these visions.

If you really want to attune yourself to the beauty around you, I offer you this bit of advice: turn off the television (it impairs the finer senses), find the person you love, and look that person in the eyes... notice how the light strikes the pupil, refracting, glinting. Questioning your motives, perhaps. Study the rays for a fraction of a second longer than usual, seek out the play of light and shadow. Forget everything else. Take that moment to understand the plain and simple beauty in those eyes. You will find something magical there, something you may have forgotten long ago.

It takes time, but in the end, appreciating the beauty around us is the easiest, most natural thing in the world. The in-between moments are sometimes the best of all.

I leave you with a final thought, which may or may not pertain to surfing: check the waves every day, even if the report says its flat. Once in a while you’ll come upon a sneaker swell. You never know, you might just catch the best wave of your life.