Life’s essence is revealed more on some days than on others. Days when the roses reach so far out into your path that you can’t walk by without smelling them. The universe distills the good and places it right in front of you. It’s a reminder, a lesson, a gift. A whisper that says, “This is what’s important.”
On a slow and soft summer evening in late July, the water was still and warm. The air felt full and gentle. The light was easy, diffused through feathered clouds and summer air, so no eyes squinted and no sunglasses were worn. The sand felt soft and welcoming as it filled in around the feet that moved through it. A breeze brushed light and steady over skin and beach grass. People on the shore smiled slow, patient smiles, aware of the evening’s goodness.
A little sandbar out front was just beginning to break. Five surfers sat on their longboards. They took turns paddling into small, clean waves that wandered in from deeper water and folded over the shallow bar. There was an ease in the water, too. It was calm and friendly. There was an appreciation of a warm and beautiful day when things feel right.
Dressed in a tiny blue vest with inflated sleeves, a little girl appeared. She was about four years old. She embodied the universe. She sat on her father’s back as he paddled a surfboard into the waves. She held his shoulders, her feet planted on the board on either side of him. Her eyes were wide and bright, her smile more luminous than the low sun behind her. At her side, the girl’s mom paddled a longboard. A family going out to play in the waves.
As she joined the small group of surfers out in the waves, she saw no reason to contain what she felt and screamed with excitement. The energy in the water changed. It opened. Smiles became wider. All the hearts within her sphere of influence grew more expansive. The evening no longer held a collection of separate perceptions, but became a collective, made whole.
Surfing can feel individualistic. One person, one wave. My wave. It’s something done together, but, still, always alone. Proper etiquette suggests that, unless invited, paddling into someone else’s wave is not OK. There are good reasons for this. Safety, mostly. But besides that, it’s a pattern of habits we bring from a highly individualized life on land. Me, mine. A protective, scarcity mentality that leaves little room for sharing.
A wave arrived, and the little girl screamed “Party wave!” — a call for everyone to join in on riding the same wave, a rare invitation to empathy. Everyone turned and paddled, each aware of the other, hoping to feel a single wave’s energy together.
The girl’s eyes widened; she trembled with uncontained joy. When anyone else caught a wave, she yelled in her free, natural voice and threw up both her hands. She was fearlessly herself, in all her feeling and expression. And in being so, she invited everyone else to be fully themselves, too.
Adults are often guarded in our feelings, bridling the depth and strength of our emotions. Trimming off the extreme edges to put forward a pacified, averaged middle. But those restraints are indiscriminate, muting both joy and sorrow. The girl’s disregard for our established mental ruts melted all of that. This little human, unhindered by fear of judgment, was a light for everyone else. She let us drop our guard, be free in our feeling, authentic in our experience — she let us be childish.
The sun began to set into an orange brush stroke of low clouds. Fires burned on the beach. Friends and families stood side by side around the bright, warm fires, illuminated, knowing each other more fully in the light they cast.