Friday, September 23, 2011

The beach in September

Partly because I was so influenced by reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin over the summer, partly because I’d committed to do it, and partly because I couldn’t deny the likelihood that I’d have a wonderful time, I took the whole day off from work on Wednesday and drove to southern Maine to take a very long walk on the beach with my college roommate.

We’d come up with this plan in the middle of the summer: the idea was to walk from her house on Moody Beach in Wells about three miles to Ogunquit, then make our way along the Marginal Way to Perkins Cove, eat an early dinner, and do the whole thing in reverse. But the July late-afternoon we set aside for it was rainy, so we did a shorter walk instead and had dinner on her porch.

That was a fun get-together as well, but she was still intent on finding time for us to do the original plan, so I suggested we try for after the school year started.
This was a rather daring suggestion on my part. I’m usually so protective of my weekday solitude during the school year – the six hours per day that I can write without interruption – that I don’t even like to go to the post office or the supermarket during this time. So taking the whole day off was a big deal to me.
But last week, I took two hours off on a beautiful Tuesday morning to go biking, and it was blissful. As my friend Tracey said then, afterwards you’ll remember the bike ride, not the work you should have been doing. So I decided to play even more fast and loose with my work time and sneak out for the whole day.

It was a wonderful decision. When I arrived at Renee’s house, it was low tide. A bright late-summer sun glowed off a seemingly endless expanse of packed wet sand. Scattered along the miles we covered were sunbathers, other walkers, and even a few swimmers, far more people than I expected to see midweek in September. But their presence was validating. If they could enjoy the beach on such a magnificent Wednesday, even one when I should have been working, then so could I.

By the end of the afternoon, my leg muscles ached from power-walking on the sand, but it was so worthwhile. Yes, maybe I should have been working; but instead I was enjoying a gorgeous sunny day by the sea. Ultimately, which is really more important: racking up a few more billable hours or honoring the bounty of the universe?

In “The Happiness Project,” Gretchen Rubin makes the point that living a good life means identifying what makes us happy and then pursuing it. After finishing her book last month, I took her words to heart. Having interesting employment and holding onto it is important, but so is finding things that make us happy. The long invigorating walk on the beach, and the visit with an old friend, nourished my spirit tremendously.

For today, it’s back to work; I returned home to 42 unread emails, two new assignments and numerous requests for revisions on various pieces. But I also returned home with tomatoes and corn from a seaside vegetable stand, lungs full of fresh ocean air, and a very minor sunburn, all of which will remind me of what a wonderful sunsplashed day I spent by the water.

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