I came to the beach anxious this year. I hadn’t been feeling well. My blood pressure up, my stress level high.  My stomach hurting, maybe from gastritis.  My wife and I brought our four children and eight others.  Not exactly stress-free, you say?  You’d be surprised.

The house we rented is across the road from the beach on Edisto Island, in SC.  It’s an older house, with a torn screen, doors that won’t lock and water that tastes vaguely like the ocean it sits near.  The disposal didn’t work. The doors and walls creak.  In the entire house, in which there were 12 kids from ages 12 – 18, there was one television; and not even a flat-screen!

Over the course of the past few days Jan and I have slept and rested, read and chatted, largely ignored by the endlessly laughing, chatting, texting, photo-taking, soccer-playing mass of young people.  In other words, except for providing the space (paying for it) and cooking, we’ve had a week-long date; the kind of date when husbands and wives lie down together with amorous intent then fall promptly to sleep due to chronic fatigue.  And then consider it a great evening!

We have, of course, spent our days by or in the ocean, letting the waves ease away our stress, and the sound of the ocean soothe our hearts with its ancient, cyclic music. We have body-surfed and walked the beach, and watched as our youngest two travelers did cart-wheels in the sand, and the older members of our band flirted and stood in an intimate circle sharing their jokes and their hearts with one another.  Watched as our oldest and his love walked hand in hand through the surf; a delight of young romance if ever there was one.

The weather has been perfect.  The rain has fallen a few times, and the evening wind has been the perfect temperature for blowing away the brain-fog I felt before arriving.  We have eaten well, but simply; spaghetti, tacos, sandwiches, shrimp and grits.  And we have been to a restaurant only once; but to the Piggly-Wiggly grocery store multiple times as our stocks diminished. Especially our stock of proper, drinkable water and pure ice.

All of it, though, has been one endless therapy session for me.  I have thrilled at the feel of the sand, the roll and song of the waves, the brush of the breeze, the youth and beauty and strength of these young men and women in our charge, the cool sheets in a small room with my warm wife, the paucity of television screens or other disruptive technology, have added up to a remarkable amount of relaxation that I can’t recall having in ages.

Here, this week at Edisto Island, I have embraced a reality that I rejected for too long.  That I am affected by this hectic, modern life. That my medical career fills me with anxiety.  That I worry too much.  That I see too many things that are bad and embrace too few things that are good. That I have defined myself too long by my ability to endure and rejected for too long the necessity of just being; of just breathing and sleeping, eating, loving and laughing.  Things which require no odd schedule, things which require no classes or certifications, no endurance of suffering, no plan to handle every contingency.

As I sat on the beach this evening, after walking with Jan and while watching Elysa and her friend Islay do cartwheels on the sand, I began to wonder.  What’s more real? This island and the peace of the ocean?  Or the chaos and uncertainty, sickness and struggle of the emergency room?

Is it possible, just possible, that this place (and these people) who put me at ease are more solid than even the most solid struggle?  Is it possible that to the extent that this place feels a little like heaven this week, that it actually is a little like heaven in comparison to the terrifying things I encounter at work?

I suspect that when we arrive in heaven, it will feel vaguely like this (though vastly better).  That the shores of the great sea will be composed of soft sand, firm breezes and clear water and that every bit of it will be so substantial, so ultimately real, that every stress and struggle of this life will seem misty and false at best; hellish at worst.  At least, if we can recall them at all in the midst of the blazing joy that will envelop us.

Speculation; but important.  Because I needed this week and these realizations.  And I needed the time to pause, in silence, free of news, free of worry, free of chaos, and listen to the laughter and the waves.

Because right now, I feel more real than in the midst of the most unreal horrors.  And that’s a blessing.

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