Life isn’t a walk on the beach

Published 7:07 pm Friday, July 13, 2018

On our last day in Huntington Beach, California recently, I went for our normal early-morning walk on the beach, listening to the splashing of the waves – hoping, I guess, to glean some wisdom that might rise out of them as they spit and spew to the shore. Ocean walks are good both for the body and mind, soul and spirit, as you know.

I knew I had to bring you something from the ocean when I got home, because the ocean inspires, and inspiration, I have found, is something you can’t hold in.  I hope the setting for today’s story is somewhere warm like Huntington Beach, for the sake of the young man whose early-morning classroom ends up being the ocean. If not, then the lesson stung the young man even more than I imagined.

The young man from the coast goes to his teacher one day with a strange request:

“Sir,” he said as soon as the teacher looked up from his desk, “I want knowledge.”

“Do you really want knowledge?” the teacher asks with a doubtful smile.

“Oh, yes sir, I want knowledge. I want it more than anything.”

“I think I can help you, young fella,” the teacher says, “so meet down on at the ocean at daybreak in the morning” – the Gulf coast, we hope, not the Pacific.

The request perplexes the boy, but he obeys, confident that if anyone can give him knowledge, his teacher can. Early the next morning, the young man makes his way to the beach. He sees in the distance his teacher’s tall silhouette at the water’s edge looking out over the incoming tide.

As soon as the young boy gets to him, the teacher takes him by the arm, and leads him into the water against the incoming waves until he is waist high in salty foam. He stops, and without warning, takes the boy by the back of the neck and dunks him in the ocean for several seconds. He pulls the boy up — just for a moment so he can get a little air — then dunks him again the second time, then the third, each time a little longer than the one before. When the boy comes up out of that water the third time, he is sputtering and gasping for air. With what little air he has left, he cries out, “Sir, I need air! I need air!”

As the boy catches part of his breath, the teacher says calmly,

“Son, you said you wanted knowledge. When you want it the way you wanted air, then come see me.”

As always, I could not help but think of that story as I walked that last morning on the white sand of Huntington Beach. Oh, yes, I thought, walking on the beach sure is nice — but, unfortunately, young men, gaining knowledge is not a walk on the beach.