A few months ago my husband and I went on a sunshine getaway for a few days to a favorite hotel of ours. It is quietly tucked in between two happening towns on the beach, alongside a boardwalk with a pool to boot. No need for a car rental as it’s just fifteen minutes from a major airport and within walking distance of some great restaurants. Just what the doctor ordered- rest and relaxation.
Unfortunately, even on restful vacations sleeping eludes me. Truth is, I’ve always been more of an early bird kind of gal anyways. The lure of getting a jumpstart on the day has always been too strong for me to ignore. It is my personal quiet time to gather my thoughts, list goals and make a schedule for the day ahead. #mykindofgameplanning
So, I brewed a meek cup of hotel room coffee and sat on our balcony. It was dark but I could hear the waves and make out boat lights twinkling in the distance. I also managed to find a star or two before they all disappeared into the early morning sky. I started spotting beachcombers busy waving metal detectors left to right in search of treasures. Off in the distance I could see a photographer desperately capturing a family of five in the fleeting golden hour. It was clear shell seekers were arriving too. I needed to get down there and share in the cache.
Half an hour later, with a proper cup of coffee in one hand and my husband’s hand in the other, I too was walking the beach. The sun was up but the crowds were not. As we plodded along I searched for my favorites; worn-down beach glass and heart shaped shells. Off in the far distance I spotted my competition-an older woman shelling, too.
I picked up my pace to make sure I saw more of the treasures on the beach between us. As we got closer I noticed she seemed disheveled. She had something in her hand to pick up and a dirty bag in the other. I was puzzled why a homeless woman would take shelling so seriously? As our distance shrunk I noticed her gait was off. She moved in an awkward fashion, darting and seemingly off balance. Wow, she wasn't just homeless, but perhaps also drunk. How sad. The competition was off as I assumed we may be actually looking for completely different things?
I contemplated giving her the leftover change I had from purchasing my cup of coffee. Would she think it rude of me to hand her some loose change and a few dollars? As I was waffling with what to do she was now just a few steps in front of me and I could see her clearly.
It turned out she was not much older than me. In her right hand was a pair of rusty old kitchen tongs and a grocery bag in her left. As I fiddled with the money in my pocket, she bent down to pick up…a discarded old juice box. As she dropped it into her bag so too did my stomach. She was not homeless nor was she drunk. She didn't need my money, judgement or pity. She deserved my respect and gratitude. She was collecting trash scattered all over the shore line left behind by others. I was stunned. She was so focused on her task that she never looked up and I never gave her the proper “thank you” she deserved.
As I walked past her in silence I was overcome with waves of emotions. First up was shame. How disappointed I was in how quickly I judged this kind woman based on a story I concocted. I was so far from being right. How could I have seen one thing and believed another? How many times in my life have I practiced this sort of reckless judging? The next emotional wave was hope. At a time where all bad, scary and horrifying news seems glorified, this small act of kindness I just witnessed felt enormous. She was quietly fighting the good fight. She wasn't picketing, posting on a social media platform nor chanting loud angry words. Clearly this wasn't about recognition, just simply getting the job done and therefore setting a powerful example.
Next thing I knew I spotted a plastic water bottle top like it was a lost treasure and quickly stuffed it into the back pocket of my shorts. With my eyes focused on something new, my pockets and hands quickly filled with garbage as my heart filled too.
I cannot get that woman out of my mind because she changed my view forever. As sort of a penance for not thanking her and a nod to her greatness, I made myself a promise. Every single time I go to the beach, albeit for a stroll or a full sun-soaking day, I shall take a page from her book. I will bring a happy attitude, a bag to collect trash left behind by others and my solemn promise to never leave anything behind except my footprints and a smile.
Moral: The world is our oyster-if we take proper care of it.