LESSONS FROM MY SISTER—AND THE SEA CREATURES
I sat sweltering and sweating, but savoring the sun and steam at the beach with Suzanne and her daughter, Julia. The waves rolled in, crashed, ebbed and flowed, high-tided and low-tided, drug in seaweed, reflected the sun and the moon and then did it all over again. All the while, the sea creatures did their thing too. And then did it all over again.
We made it to the beach again—safely. Just as Suzanne said we would. Our plane didn’t crash—just as she said it wouldn’t. I need to listen to my little sister more. I need to look up to her more.
There were three kind strangers behind me in the airport who picked up my things as they fell out of my bag and caught up to me to give them back.
These should have been my first three clues.
My carry-on bag was obviously overstuffed, and losing its contents. I struggled to carry it in my arms as I wheeled my suitcase along, so I tried to strap it to the handle of my wheeled bag.
Suzanne glided along smoothly, with her light load, consisting of a (smaller) wheeled suitcase, and a small, over-the-shoulder carry-on. Julia had an equally small wheeled bag, and a small backpack on her back.
I had seven books packed in there. I had snacks. I had my jewelry holder. I had water, which, of course, had to be drank before security. I had my Kindle. I had other stuff. Too much stuff—obviously.
Jettison: to throw or drop something from an aircraft or ship; to throw away as no longer useful.
I am a self-proclaimed word nerd; I wear the badge proudly. This particular word was the word-of-the-day not long ago on my calendar, and it quickly came to mind. As I walked through the airport with this ridiculous load in tow, this word wouldn’t leave my mind.
I watched my little sister advancing easily along toward our gate. Her 21 year-old daughter did the same. I, however, struggled. I, however, signed up for this. I didn’t expect their help. I did expect Suzanne to tell me I didn’t need all this stuff. She did, and she was right.
Unlike Gail and me, Suzanne is a minimalist. Gail and I strive to be more like her, but so far, it’s not working.
When Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, she jettisoned many of her possessions. She sold or gave away much of what she owned, and started over—minimally. Gail and I have been collecting stuff, and living in our homes 20 and 21 years respectively. We want to be like Suzanne when we grow up.
Perhaps it is her minimal nature. Perhaps it is her experience with cancer that made her realize she doesn’t need stuff. Perhaps it is both.
Perhaps she feels at one with the sea because the sea offers that same lesson to anyone willing to listen. All one really needs on the sea is a minimal amount of clothing. The creatures of the sea also offer that same lesson. They may or may not carry a shell on their back, and sometimes they shed that.
“…but the sea does not change.” These lyrics were the first to come through my earbuds after I turned on my iPod (name that 80’s tune, if you can) as I started my morning run on the third of our four mornings there.
I don’t believe in “coincidences,” so I will take it as something meaningful.
I should have left the iPod in the room and listened to the crashing waves, because I can listen to music any other day. These precious few days here are the only ones I can tune in to the ocean. Ocean music trumps 80’s music—or any music for that matter, but, like so many other habits, I rely upon my daily patterns, this one with music to get me running.
Another habit I engage in during my daily run at home is the mental lamentation of my left knee pain. I know the point as I take off down the driveway when it starts, I know the downhills hurt more and the uphills hurt less, and I focus on the exact spot inside my knee where the pain resides.
Except today. I wasn’t in that daily groove like I am at home, so I didn’t think about it. And there were no hills on the beach.
And it didn’t hurt nearly as much.
The sea does not change, but I did.
I know the power of the brain. My day job is in the field of brain rehabilitation. I know how habits are formed. I know how patterns in the brain are made. And I know they can be changed, starting with conscious awareness of them, followed by simply thinking differently about them, then ultimately acting differently.
I have some nasty habits, some patterns that should have been turned around long ago; some that should never have been started in the first place.
So I started looking around here on the seashore. There before me was a wealth of learning opportunities, lessons from the sea and its creatures waiting to be learned. In the spirit of keeping my 51 year-old brain in better shape than my left knee, I am always up for taking in new information, no matter how or where I can find it.
SEA TURTLES: I didn’t see any sea turtles, but I know at least one had been there, and more would soon proliferate there. A female Loggerhead Sea Turtle had crawled ashore and buried her eggs in the night, and returned to the sea. The rule on the beach is that sea turtle nests are not to be disturbed—under penalty of law. The nests are roped off, monitored, sponsored, studied and revered.
When the buried eggs hatch, they climb out of the nest and go toward the light. Hopefully, this light is the moon reflecting on the sea, and they crawl back in. To minimize the chance that they will go toward artificial light instead of the sea, beachfront property owners are urged to keep their lights down because the baby turtles will not survive long if they go the wrong way.
Following the true light is a survival matter. So it is with humans too, but we can survive longer than the sea turtles in the darkness if we choose to follow that. Except that the darkness is the wrong way, and too often we don’t listen to those forces that try to guide us into the right light.
SEAHORSES: I have long had a fascination with seahorses. Julia does too.
In my work with the brain—and as a word nerd, I latch on to the cool words that describe its structures and functions. Hippocampus is one such word. It is the structure largely responsible for memory. It is shaped like, and named after the seahorse, as hippocampus is the species name of the seahorse.
The male seahorse takes it upon himself to gestate and give birth. Having been the star of Act One in the delivery room twice, I have a respect for him that is beyond words.
Both seahorse sexes shake it up a little bit and swim vertically as well horizontally. I like any person or creature who goes against the grain, and I try to examine the grains of every social fabric before I go with it or against it. Even if everyone else is doing it, it might not be right for me.
Seahorses aren’t easily found on this beach, and we weren’t lucky enough to find one. Julia, however, did find one on a trip to Mexico with her mother four years ago, and she has been fascinated ever since. To commemorate this creature and this trip, I found this necklace in a cool little shop called Landing Company.
In celebration of Suzanne’s five-year cancer survival, she deserved her own special piece of jewelry. With the capable, kind and personalized attention from the amazing jewelry lady Dawn, we were able to find the perfect necklace in Landing Company, something Suzanne truly wanted—and she doesn’t want for much. It was a beautiful silver image of her favorite sea creature:
THE MERMAID: Don’t bother telling Suzanne they are not real, because she has chosen to believe they are. She has a new-found fascination with this mythical (real?) creature, and to show her just how happy I am to still have her with us, I put it on my tab with the seahorse necklace.
The mermaid is noted to have powers of telepathy and immortality. Suzanne has always had an intuition that I cannot explain. Before she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years ago, she consulted several doctors. An ENT and a radiologist pronounced her without cancer, but nevertheless, she persisted. She knew something wasn’t right, and she moved on to a doctor who found the problem, and began treatment. Now, five years after she visibly exercised her power of telepathy, her powers of immortality have commenced.
May these powers live long, and may she continue to inspire all of us with her powers that, like the mermaid for her, are very real.
CRABS: One of our favorite restaurants in this beach town is Crabby Bill’s. Seafood is a local specialty—of course—and this spot is our favorite. I am not a crab eater, but there is a lesson to be learned from crabs.
In a bucket of crabs being harvested, if one tries to crawl out, the others will pull it back down. No wonder they are called crabs.
Don’t hang out with crabs. They will try to drag you down to their level.
Our host at Crabby Bill’s was Ed. Our dad’s name was Ed. He even has the same sweet smile that our dad had.
We also found an old friend there from last year. Gregg was the host we mentioned in my first blog post, and of course, he remembered us. Gail was the one who hugged him upon his introduction last year, but he remembered us too.
Now, because I don’t want any of you to suffer the fate that the next creature can deliver, I must bring you down for a moment. I promise I will bring you back up.
SEAGULLS: Recognize them for the beautiful creatures of God and Nature that they are, but beyond that, be careful. They are takers. They may charm and woo you with their natural beauty, but don’t be fooled: They are there to take. And when you give them—even a little, they will stay for more, because they already know your weakness. They know they can get something for nothing from you, so don’t even give a little.
Leave them to their own devices and vices, because they are not going to change. Give up hope, as I mentioned in my last post. Give up hope on changing a creature who only knows how to take. Bless them and send them on their way.
We missed Gail terribly. She was with us last year in this beach haven, and even though we thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne’s daughter as proxy, there is no one like our sister Gail. She is the spark plug that ignites our fires inside and outside.
People remembered us. Even before we checked in to our hotel Friday night, one of our favorite restauranteurs greeted us heartily when we stopped in for a late dinner.
Gail was not able to join us, as she had recently returned from a trip to Michigan to see one of her older daughters. Suzanne and I, however, kept her spirit and her memory alive here.
We were able to reach out—without Gail–and make a few new friends. Fred B. happened to be sweeping his driveway as we walked by his house. He lives adjacent to our resort, close to the beach walkway. We were staring, slack-jawed at this perfect little house, perfectly located by the beach. His house has been in his family since the 1930’s, and he has lived in it since he arrived in the 1940’s.
We are so jealous, but a house like this couldn’t belong to a nicer man.
Dawn at Landing Company, and Terri Anne at The Tervis Store are now counted among our friends there, too.
The sea does not change, but after spending this trip with Suzanne and her daughter, I am motivated to change. Suzanne’s spirit of minimalism is admirable and I want to be like her when I grow up. So I am starting small, but starting nonetheless. Despite the purchases I made that, perhaps I didn’t really need, I am trying to jettison other possessions at home. I am trying harder to recognize the patterns of thought in my brain that lead me to repeat the same futile actions over and over yet again.
Next time I’m preparing for a trip, Suzanne has volunteered to pack for me. She said she will be able to fit it all in a Zip-lock bag.
Like the sea creatures, we shouldn’t need all this stuff.
Like Suzanne, we should all celebrate every day of this life we are granted, because, unlike Suzanne, we are not immortal.
This post is dedicated to Suzanne the Survivor, and to Denise who is fighting the fight right now. Denise, let’s plan a trip to Florida in five years—and maybe even before.