For the past three years we have vacationed on an island off the North Carolina coast. Seven days of sun and surf and all-around laziness. Most times, we exert ourselves only to the point of walking along the beach to scoop up shells and applying aloe to our sunburns. In other words, it’s perfect.
Usually around the third day I start thinking about the life I’ve left behind. The one of deadlines and must-do’s, of chores and timetables. It isn’t a longing to return to that world, never that. It’s more that growing pile of work that I know must be done, and how tall that pile is getting each day I’m away.
The emails that aren’t being answered. The chapters that aren’t getting written. The grass that isn’t being cut and the garden that isn’t being weeded and the job someone else is having to do and on and on.
Someone once told me I would know I’d become an adult when the days all melted into one eternal Monday. I don’t think that’s true. I think you know you’ve become an adult when you realize the break you take from your responsibilities isn’t really worth it, because there will be twice as much waiting for you when you get back. You realize the gray, drably life you live in isn’t much, but it’s better than none at all.
This year, things have been different. And it’s all because of the little guy you see to the right of this post.
Our new neighbors moved in just a few days ago. Him, a brother, mom and dad. Squatters for the most part, though no one seems intent on kicking them out. They’ve made their home beneath a tangle of pines between the two dunes just off our balcony.
I’ve watched them since from my perch on the second floor. The four of them rise early, just before the sun. They will stretch and sniff and take in the new day with an air of thankfulness before picking at the sea oats and grass. They never overindulge, only take what they need to fill their bellies. They take care where they step, and when they move, it is always with an air of grace and confidence. After, the children will play while the parents watch, and when the air turns hot and the winds gather, they’ll bed down for the day beneath their pines. The entire process is repeated in the cool of the evening, at which point we’ll all bid them a goodnight.
That is the life of the deer outside our window. And as I’ve studied them these past four days, I’ve decided they are not inferior beings at all. In many ways, they are smarter than I am. In many others, they live better than I do.
Because I could learn to indulge myself only to the point of being full and no further, leaving a bit of joy for others to relish. And I could do a better job of navigating the slopes and ridges of my own world—using a gingerly step rather than charging through, perhaps. Or looking twice and then leaping gracefully.
I could learn to rest when the hard winds blow.
Hunker down more with my family.
And I could greet each day with an air of thankfulness, because despite the gray and drably lives we lie ourselves into believing we possess, we are surrounded by beauty and grace and wonder because those things live within us as well.
Today we rose with the sun and walked along deserted beaches laden with the spoils of low tide. We saw crab and fish and treasure. We navigated a sand bar that stretched nearly half a mile into the horizon just to find a shark tooth. We bid good morning to our neighbors as we crossed the bridge by their pines. And not once did my thoughts wander to all those unfinished things I’d left behind at home. I was too caught up in the understanding that I was unfinished, too.