A trip to Onslow Beach at Camp Lejeune at low tide early on a weekday morning found the surf-washed beach almost empty of people. But it was littered with sharks’ teeth. I found a dozen small, black teeth in an hour of lackadaisical searching.
Like most of you readers I feel very fortunate to live close enough to the beach to experience it. Early morning on a beach is a magical time. It can offer a solitude for which many of us search … an opportunity to contemplate the vastness, beauty and timelessness of the sea. It shrinks our own troubles whatever and … since most of our troubles are people oriented … whoever they may be.
“The cure for anything,” as author Isak Dinesen was quoted as saying, “is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.”
If you’re like me, if it’s not solitude for which we search on the beach, we’re often rightly focused on those we’re with and not all that interested in striking up conversations with strangers. It’s not that we’re unfriendly and we are, after all, blessedly living in eastern North Carolina where “stranger” still has a less irksome sense than it does up north. It’s just that our focus is on those we know and love, not on strangers.
So I was content with the solitude, watching my daughter and grandsons frolic in the waves, and keeping my focus downward to find prehistoric treasure. Still, I have to admit being intrigued by one of the few people on the beach.
The surf fisherman I assumed to be a Marine injured in combat. He wore a prosthetic, “blade runner”-type artificial leg. But while my desire for solitude was altered by a similar desire to thank him for his sacrifices, I was hesitant to emphasize his injury and rekindle bad memories. So, eyes down, I passed up the chance to meet this man and his toddler son who was with him.
But this morning was destined to be even more special than mornings on the beach always are. Fate would not allow my desire for solitude and indifference to strangers to stand. Two strangers, I’ll call them Sanguinity and Serendipity … neither of which I would have met if solitude had won the day … approached me inquisitive about my clasped hand filled with sharks’ teeth.
Sanguinity was the wife of the wounded surf fisherman who was watching their son while he had gathered up his gear and loaded up their car while I was downward focused. After showing her my sharks’ teeth, I mentioned how comfortable her little boy was on the beach – like he was born to be there. That little observation gave her the opening to describe her miracle baby. A preemie born at 24 weeks, he was not expected to live. Yet after six months in ICU he’s growing and happy and thriving.
Then she opened up that a second reason her baby was a miracle was that her husband was blown up with 20 of his Marine comrades in Iraq in a series of seven improvised explosive devices and is the only one of the men to have survived. He spent 2.5 years in the hospital recovering from the loss of his left leg and other injuries.
A Swansboro High School Homecoming Queen in her “younger and prettier days,” she said, she admitted that her life hadn’t turned out as she expected.
At that moment, though, you could not have shown me a more beautiful, hopeful woman then Sanguinity who modestly left out the third miracle in her story: herself. She played a critical role in her husband’s and son’s own lives and recoveries.
Then Serendipity appeared. He asked what I was picking up on the beach. I showed him my handful of sharks’ teeth. He had never found one, he said. I gave him several of mine and explained my technique for locating them.
It turned out that Serendipity was a retired Marine visiting from out of state. When I asked him what his life was outside of the Corps, he said he was a Red Cross leader. My son-in-law, husband of my daughter visiting from Maine, just resigned a Red Cross leadership position for employment at Bath Iron Works where he is involved in building Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyers for the U.S. Navy. When I mentioned my son-in-law’s name, Serendipity said, “I know your son-in-law. He’s very much missed at the Red Cross.”
What are the chances on a deserted beach to meet such people? I found sharks’ teeth, sure. But I actually discovered so much more. I learned important lessons about looking up not down, that a deserted beach can be far from empty, and the value of engagement over solitude.
Newspaper columnist Barry Fetzer lives in Hubert.