I’ve never been one for sunrises. They’re too early. I’m a true night owl. I get all of my energy in the evening. I feel like after the sun sets, all of the best stuff is yet to come! Lots of people around, lots more potential for great food and a party. Yeah… I’m definitely a sunset gal. Sunrises, eh.
As I write this, I am on a trip celebrating my birthday with three of my best friends from college, Kelly, Kim and Roselle. It’s one of those things we’ve been saying we were going to do for the past 10 years, but haven’t quite gotten around to because of work, husbands, kids… you know.
We went around and around and AROUND about where we were going to go. NYC? Spa Vaca? Cruise? Mountains? Islands? Well, after a few months of analysis paralysis, (my birthday twin) Kelly took the reins and found a serendipitous Groupon deal for a secluded beach resort within just 2 hours driving distance from our home. Ferry in and out, no tiki bars, no late night shows, no dance clubs, no fancy restaurants. Just a really beautiful setting with three of my most beautiful girls.
My friend Roselle almost didn’t make the trip because of both, a lengthier drive and a weekend awards ceremony for her oldest, but I had peer-pressured her with promises of hugs, fresh brewed coffee, and a ride to make sure that she caught the first ferry back on Sunday. That meant on the last day of our trip, I had a 5:30am wake-up call on a morning that may have seen a 3:30am bedtime. Yawn. Thanks, Ro!
We hopped in the resort-approved golf cart so she could be on her merry (ferry?) way. As I waved goodbye, I thought to myself, “Now what?”. It was still dark out, I was wide awake, and there was no one to play with. I decided to take advantage of this solitude and do what I thought I was supposed to do. I would walk along the shore, listening to the waves crash, pondering my life as the sun came up. Isn’t that what you morning people do at the beach?
I parked the cart outside our place and walked around back, to the path that would be the trailhead to my life-changing sunrise stroll. I was mindful about the serenity of the moment; I was consciously enjoying the smells and the sounds around me. I was there alone amongst nature. It was really quiet, there was a cool breeze and… HOLY @#$%! A huge bird flapped out of the sand dune directly in front of me and nearly gave me a heart attack. The echo of my ridiculous squeal probably woke people for miles. Ok, deep breaths… peace… enjoy the moment… you can do this… focus, I thought.
I continued to the beach and looked around. It wasn’t quite pitch dark anymore, but there wasn’t much of a change in the sky either. It was at that moment that I realized that I wasn’t on the Northeast coast of my youth, but on the West coast of Florida. My amazing sunsets are on the Gulf… I swung around to see that the elusive sunrise was going to be on the Bay behind me. Hhmmphh. I trekked back from whence I came, this time keeping an eye out for pterodactyl-like rogue birds. I smiled to myself, taking notice that the only footprints on the sand were my own from my previous journey towards the shore.
Now I was DETERMINED to see this flippin’ sunrise. I jumped back into the golf cart and headed over to the Bay side canal where we had kayaked the day before. I parked the cart and once again tried to center myself. I strode purposefully down to the dock to see the magic that awaited me. The tarpon were swirling, the mullet were jumping, the water was glistening and the mangrove trees were… blocking my view of the sunrise.
Ok, so at this point it’s getting lighter and I can kind of make out some pretty colors and cloud formations, it’s lovely, but I’m over it. Still wide awake, still alone with nothing to do. I decide to forget about the sunrise and instead, focus my attention on just enjoying myself by exploring the island a little bit.
Once again, I hop on my trusty (and a little rusty) battery powered steed and check out the architecture of the million dollar homes along the beach. I notice how strange it is to drive around with no one else awake yet. I thought there would be something intriguing about it, but find I don’t like it. I certainly don’t need to have every minute of my day filled up with people, but I do love seeing others on vacation and waving with a smile and that little nod that says “Hey! I’m not at work either! Isn’t it great?!?”.
I wind along the roads thinking about life and all of its blessings. I reflect on all of the fun we had on the trip and how life changes as you get older. I think about my family and the joy of seeing them later today. I find myself serenely driving mindlessly instead of mindfully looking for serenity. Soon after that, I came to the end of the road. I don’t mean that as a metaphor… it really was the end of the road.
My journey had taken me to the cape of the island. I pulled the cart as close to the edge as I could, staying on the shelly gravel meant for such things. It was when finally I stopped looking that I remembered what I was doing there in the first place.
I scanned across the water and upwards to see that the sky had turned a cotton candy pink, all swirly and breathtaking. The waves looked like diamonds lapping at the shore just a few feet from where I stood. There was a sea turtle nest directly behind me and a flock of seagulls (ok, they were pelicans, but couldn’t pass up the reference) directly in front of me. A great blue heron was to my right and she looked right at me and cocked her head as if to say “what are YOU doing here?”.
I looked back at her, proudly claiming my place amongst those who like seeing the sun come up. She took a few steps towards me and then turned away, almost beckoning me to follow her. Well, I was on my new spiritual path to sunrise serenity, so I went with it. I followed her around the bend to a spot which was flush with mangrove trees on land and wide open to the sea with almost 360 degree views on the other. I paused to take in the vista, wondering what it would look like if Google Earth was to snap a shot of me standing here.
I turned back to see my Heron friend, but instead my gaze fell upon something else, something that I hadn’t seen even though it was just a few feet away. It was a lone, dried up mangrove. On its wiry branches were hundreds of shells, placed like Christmas tree ornaments. It was something so obviously man-made amidst this God-made landscape. It was striking, and strange, and beautiful… all at the same time.
I walked over to it in awe of those who came before me. Did they happen upon this spot accidentally, as I had? Were these shells memorials to loved ones? Were they wishes? Mementos of a fun vacation? Were they prayers? Dreams? I felt so lucky to be amongst them, so intensely happy to have found them. I decided that they must be all of the above.
I spent the next half hour combing the beach for the perfect shells that represented my people, and my dreams. With tears welling in my eyes, I placed them lovingly, purposefully and mindfully on the tree. Higher up for those needing strength, quirky personalities on the waviest branches, my husband, my children and I all together on the steadiest, sturdiest, perch I could find. I did everything I could to memorize their shapes and their placements so if I ever returned, I’d be able to recognize them. I silently cursed myself for not bringing my phone to take a picture, while simultaneously being glad that I hadn’t.
This was my moment to be present. This is why I was here. As I walked away, I stopped to take another look back, saying a prayer for all those who, too had taken the time to add a little piece of themselves to the tree and realized that I wasn’t so alone after all. THIS was my kind of sunrise.