the ocean

I heard a story last night about a local kid, maybe 10 years old, who had never seen the ocean (even though it’s only 2 hours away). After days of mandated, insipid testing, the teachers felt the kids deserved a field trip and decided to take the class to the aquarium at Myrtle Beach and then have a picnic lunch at the state park beach. Now, the teacher knew this boy hadn’t ever been to the beach. Because she is loving and insightful, she really LISTENED to the boy instead of just hearing that he’d never seen the ocean. She understood what that meant.

When they got to the beach, the boy almost couldn’t process what he was seeing. The teacher — with no judgment, just compassion — allowed the boy to be in awe of what he was seeing.

The boy slowly made his way down the steps and onto the sand. He stared at the water with a huge grin and complete wonder. The teacher allowed him this silence and discovery. The boy put his towel down on the sand and just stared at the water.

I’ll take a moment here to insert myself into the story to say that I cannot remember a time of not knowing the ocean. It has always been a part of my life, but I still stand in awe when I see it.

After a while, the teacher joined the student to sit and quietly watch the vast expanse before them. She gently answered the questions he had — that the water doesn’t fall off the earth because of gravity, that his observation that it looked curved was correct because they were seeing the curve of the earth — and they enjoyed the vastness, the possibilities. The boy even got a chance to wade around in the waves and wiggle his bare toes in the sand. Everything in that moment was awe, wonder, and possibility.

I have been thinking a lot about that story the teacher told me last night (I LOVE running into friends and neighbors at local restaurants and such). I fell asleep thinking about it, woke up with it on my mind. I thought of it as I drove down here to Columbia for the Book Festival, admiring the farm roads, fields, and peach orchards full of impending fruit as I made my way toward the freeways that still (despite insane traffic and crazier drivers) managed to be beautifully insulated on either side by dense varieties of hardwood trees in every shade of green.

I want to live that awe, that wonder, that endless possibility all the time. Every moment. Not just when staring at the ocean and not just when remarking on a vista. And I want to be the kind of loving, compassionate, insightful person that teacher is who can bring those indelible moments into the lives of others. She gave that kid such a gift.

That is the reason we’re all here. Give, receive, enjoy.

Be in awe.


Author: elizabeth dutton

i traffic in words

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