Both Jackson and Parker shed their shoes and socks by a wooden staircase connecting our hotel to the ocean. Then, two barefoot boys race toward the rolling waves. They bound across soft fine sand, tiptoe over a narrow layer of coarse broken shells, and finally sink into the cold wet sand by the sea. The wind upends their golden hair as the orange sun sinks lower in the horizon.
Neither boy has any memory of the ocean. Parker has not ventured to the seaside until now, and Jackson is far too young to recall the days he spent on the shore as an infant, feasting on fistfuls of wet sand.
A stranger approaches Parker and kindly gives him a plastic baggie to collect shells and other treasures. He scours the landscape with gusto, placing any shell that strikes his fancy into the bag – cockle shells, fragments of grey and white and deep purple, some showcasing tiny holes throughout, large and sturdy chunks, some that are thin and delicate.
Next, pant legs are rolled up, exposing knobby knees as the boys walk out into the frigid water. They stomp and splash and dance in circles. A wave crashes and they jump the layer of sprawling water as it glides toward us.
I now know there is no saving a boy’s pants once he walks into the ocean. First the cuffs grow wet, and with each passing wave, the water creeps upward through the darkening fabric. Eventually, fleeing an extra large wave, they kick copious amounts of water through the air and find their pants completely drenched. They don’t seem to mind.
I smile as I watch their elation before the vast Atlantic. I call to them, “Come back this way, boys! You’re out too far!” Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, I wade out into the water to retrieve a stubborn three-year-old.
Eventually, Parker jumps a wave and loses his balance. He topples into the ocean fully clothed; only his head remains dry. I run toward him and pull him back up to his feet. His face is both surprised and joyful. He stands tall in the receding water, more resolved than ever to jump the next wave.
Then, two ladies walking along the shore holler to me, “Your shoe! Your shoe!” I turn around to see my running shoe riding out to sea as the ocean retreats. I bolt toward it, soaking the bottom of my pants as I retrieve the wayward shoe. I have now joined the ranks of those wearing wet clothes in the ocean and decide I’m in excellent company. The good in life resides right here in the water, in the waves, in the action, as two little boys must already know.
Eventually, the boys bid farewell to the ocean through chattering teeth. Their clothes are soaked with salt water and sand clings to the sides of their reddened feet. Slowly, they wander back toward the staircase, toting the baggie full of treasures they’ve found along the shoreline.
My own hands rest empty at my side as I shuffle along behind two shivering forms. Yet, I am certain that I, too, now carry the treasures of the ocean with me.