One of the great pleasures of my life, from the time I was a small boy, has been the pastime of beachcombing. I am happy to say that the amount of my life frittered away on this activity very likely amounts to thousands of hours.
Of course, I have very little in the way of material results to show for all this time and energy. I have a collection of sea shells in a cedar box, some fossils dug out of a soft clay cliff overlooking the North Sea, a peacock feather (Is this unlucky? Isn’t there some superstition about finding a peacock feather?), a Mason jar filled with bits of coloured sea glass, a few polished shards of sea china, and an ancient clay tobacco pipe (the jewel in the crown of my collection) completely encrusted with barnacles.
To this day, when I’m walking along a winter beach in the rain (a beach long deserted by the tourists and fickle sun-worshipping locals) I entertain the fantasy of coming across an amazing treasure of some kind. When I was young, I pictured a chest filled with ancient gold coins, still-functional muskets, and jewel-studded daggers. Now, I picture a ragged leather steamer trunk from a sunken 1930s ocean liner. There would be a waterlogged journal, its once-cream coloured pages filled with blurred accounts of exotic travel and political intrigue in the beautiful handwriting of a ghost. There would, perhaps, be Eastern European currency, an ivory-handled letter opener, a black felt hat, an ancient fountain pen, and a collection of yellowed photographs of forever-nameless loved ones.
It has occurred to me lately that beachcombing is a pretty apt metaphor for the act of living life as I feel it was meant to be lived. When I don’t live my life properly, a more apt metaphor would be a trip to the shopping mall, with a list of consumable items clutched tightly in my hand. When I live properly, as a wanderer of the shores, a beachcomber, an explorer of inter-tidal caves, I give myself the gift of truly living. My consciousness travels slowly and mindfully along the shores of existence. I pay attention to the things that wash-up at the feet of my imagination. I consider scraps of conversation overheard on the bus or the coffee shop, the peculiar quality of light early in the morning, the sight of a beautiful woman riding a bicycle down the street, a few brief bars of organ music coming from a church, the smell of roasting coffee, and the fat yellow harvest moon trapped like a child’s luminous kite in the branches of a hawthorn tree.
When I’m living as I should, the tides and currents of mystery and love bring the world to the path I walk.