For generations, Southerners have flocked to what we consider to be “our beaches.” Stretching along the Gulf Coast from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida We make the trek every year, hoping no one else has discovered our spot of paradise. We easily recognize those who drove from far away to reach the beaches by their white legs and overhearing them erroneously call the Gulf an “ocean.”
I remember having to defend myself when someone in Atlanta, who was originally from Delaware, laughed at me because I claimed Alabama had a beautiful beach. “How could that possibly be true?” he sniffed. I gave up after a while, because I decided we didn’t need negative people like him on our beach. He’d probably call it an ocean anyway.
Once we’re on the warm sand, the sun makes it too bright to read, so we people-watch for a while, then try to nap, but are awakened by the thundering engines of boats pulling parasails that look like giant sky jellyfish.
We take a walk, eat a sandwich, but eventually begin to stare at the water. We can’t take our eyes off the layers of Green, turquoise, then dark blue. White foamy waves chase happy children as they run from the splashes.
For some reason, these days, sharks are showing up more frequently, but when I was a teenager, we swam in the Gulf without fear. If we went out far enough past the deep dark blue area, there was a sandbar where I could barely touch bottom and would bob up and down with the waves. It was almost deafening with the roar of the water churning around us. There were plenty of times we wouldn’t be paying attention and we’d be slammed beneath the surface by a giant wave, but being raised on the coast, we were all good swimmers and knew what to do. The first and most important rule was, “don’t panic.” When I felt myself going under, I would take a deep breath, and brace myself to be plunged beneath the tumultuous surf into a new world of total peace. Below the waves was an eerie vacuum of silence. There, under the roaring crash of the surf, screams of children and squawking birds, I found a muted tranquility. Sometimes, I’d open my eyes and could still see the violent waves above, but where I was, there were only gentle, mesmerizing swirls. Eventually, I’d pop up, often in a completely different place and would have to swim back over to my friends. As a reward for not panicking, I’d often return holding a beautiful new shell for my collection, discovered while I was pushed to the floor of the Gulf.
I don’t venture out to sandbars anymore, but instead, sit and gaze at the beauty and power of the blue water. It serves as a reminder, that when things in the world are loudly swirling around me, not to panic, but instead, take a deep breath, and seek solitude beneath the storm. Ducking under the turmoil for a brief time can offer a soothing new perspective, and we often resurface to find ourselves in a new place. The Gulf taught me that sometimes, it’s okay to withdraw — to just retreat from chaos, drama and craziness. Taking a break every now and then to find peace is needed and we shouldn’t wait to be forced under.
Serving as both party hall and cathedral, the Gulf speaks to everyone differently. Feeling the power and majesty of creation, and being reminded to take time to be still, when all around us is swirling and slamming us down. We should seek momentary quietness and understand that we’ll eventually pop up in a new place. And maybe, while all is quiet, that’s the exact time, we’ll discover a treasure as beautiful and unique as a new seashell.