I was walking down Dania Beach, a swarm of priorities buzzing in my head. I’d just begun teaching high school English, and there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of tasks that needed attention. Which of the academic and administrative jobs must I do? Which could take a backseat to the more pressing job of building rapport with 200 teens—kids who didn’t even have enough desks?
I didn’t doubt that, on this day, the beach would show the way just as it had for years. I believe, along with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, that only thoughts reached by walking have value. Nietzsche walked in the Alps; I walk on the beach. But the rewards are similar. There’s something about the rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other that restores an inner harmony. There’s something about the splendor of nature’s external harmony—the surf, the sky, the flight of pelicans—that adds to the inner harmony, too.
Sometimes, when I glimpse a new insight on the beach, I find a talisman, a token that seems to confirm the value of my thoughts. Usually it’s a sea bean or sea heart, gifts from the Amazon that float up to Florida on the Gulfstream current. On this day, however, no insight came. Policies, schedules, meetings, State and federal regulations, AIDS awareness, OSHA guidelines, IEPs for LDs and ESL for LPs.. Hours on the beach, and I still did not know how to do this job. For once, walking had let me down.
I was bewildered then, to see an unmistakable gift from the sea: a shell unlike any I had seen upon these shores. Dania has provided me with lightning whelks, fighting conchs, alphabet conchs, spiny oyster shells and more—but this was different. Two perfect halves, rough on the outside, smoothly iridescent within. Mother of pearl, I mused. How on earth did it get here? And why on earth had I found such a gift when no insight came before it?
Mother of pearl. . . Mother Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl of The Scarlet Letter. The Pearl of great price, daughter of literature’s most famous single mother.
And then I knew.
Children without desks would have to wait. While I was on the beach, there was one child, a five-year-old-boy, without a mother. Of all the priorities crowding my mind, it took an unearned gift of nature to remind me of the most fundamental. I went home to my own Pearl of Great Price. And we took a walk together.
I believe that slowing down is the best response to a world that urges us to speed up. I believe that the impulse to walk is part of that response. I believe that the habit of looking for gifts on these walks has created in me an ability to answer life’s questions with greater wisdom than I possess alone. I believe that thoughts reached by walking have value.
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