“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There is only one moon in the sky.” ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
This morning while walking on the beach I noticed a young woman in her 20´s running. Her body was tan and trim, and her face was perfectly relaxed. She was fast and pretty and carefree. She didn’t look back at me, but I stared into her glowing eyes and thought to myself: ´That used to be me’.
Playa Penca, my favorite little, Pacific paradise in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica holds so many memories for me. It was the first place Andrea and I visited in Costa Rica almost 15 years ago. I enjoyed it in my 20´s without children, and then again in my 30’s while I was five months pregnant with Kenia. Revisiting this beach early this morning after 8 years distance, I was pleased to see that not much has changed: no lounge chairs, no fancy umbrellas, no cafés. Same deserted beach, same sparkling, clean water pushing a countless number of seashells to the shore, same patches of blue and green changing form with the delicate movement of a spectacular ocean inhabited by swarms of sea creatures of all shapes and sizes. Same elegantly curved tree offering passing visitors the glorious relief of its shade…Same light breeze, same crystal clear sky, same velvety sand heated by the same scorching, tropical sun. Everything wildly in place. Everything right there just as I remembered, everything that is, except me.
At one time not too long ago, those five simple words: that used to be me, could have brought tears to my eyes… tears of weariness, envy, time gone- unnoticed and unobserved, tears of finding myself midway through my 40’s. But early this morning, as two small hands wrapped themselves tightly around mine – complaints about the heat and tired feet filling my ears instead of the sound of chirping birds and crashing waves- I thought of me now. And… I thought of me then: that girl running on the beach, muscles strong and relaxed with the taste of salty drops of energy, endurance and ecstasy dripping down my face towards my neck, shoulders and arms; just me, running to my heart’s content, every cell completely free…back then, when running meant running and not thinking about homemade snacks or homework, clean underwear or clean ears and finger nails… back then, when I probably didn’t even notice the other women on the beach, women of all ages, women with lives and important thoughts of their own… when I probably didn’t even notice that lovely mother who was tiredly dragging along her two little children with their little needs and constant chattering, as she watched me run: fast, pretty and carefree. Back then, I didn’t notice her as she stared intensely into my glowing eyes and thought with bittersweet nostalgia: ‘That used to be me.’.
We all have our moment of being able to run, shop, take a shower or read a book in peace… wear a white, linen dress without having to worry about removing spilt juice or footprints off the front of it at the end of the day. No one waiting for us. No one needing anything for us to do. A moment of time with nowhere to be, no one to answer to. If only we thought then that it wouldn’t last forever. If only we appreciated it more before impermanence washed it away like a sandy beach slowly disappearing with the rising tide, taking away one beautiful seashell and replacing it with another. If only we knew that our daily runs would inevitably be replaced with another phase of life – another beautiful seashell– special and unique in its own way, older and a bit more chipped, but filled with huge, innocent eyes, wet, sticky kisses, moist hands and the sound of laughter, hearty and pure. A phase of life where 30 minutes of running is interrupted by 10 zillion requests and 20 minutes of yoga means being stepped over, run around and closely scrutinized from head to toe. A phase where we need to learn patience and acceptance, and 10 minutes of meditating looks something like this:
I lay down on my back, legs relaxed, palms facing up. I close my eyes and let my thoughts float. I hear laughter in the distance, but under my favorite tree there is stillness and silence. Andrea is watching the girls who are seemingly absorbed in their play when after only a couple of minutes I hear Havana calling out to me from the shore.
‘Mommy, what are you doing? Are you doing yoga?’
‘Yes’, I whisper back as softly as possible.
‘Can I have a candy today’?, she asks in her exuberant, little voice.
I breathe and nod knowing that she probably won’t see my visual response.
‘Mommy are you meditating?’, she continues.
She doesn’t wait for an answer.
‘Mommy did we eat lunch yet? Is it morning still? Can I have a snack?’
‘Five more minutes honey’, I calmly respond.
O.k.,… but, did you see my doll and can I have two candies today?’
‘Mommy, mommy… are you finished yet?
Laughing to myself, I continue to breathe. My thoughts continue to float.
One minute later Kenia taps me on the shoulder, trying to be as delicate and subtle as a 10 year old can possibly be, as she says, ‘Can I tell you just one thing mom?’’…
I open my eyes. I smile as I pull her towards me and listen… I continue accepting knowing that this phase will one day be a beautiful memory… a runaway seashell… one day, it will be time to let go…
I sit up. I look towards my daughters and watch them jump in and out of the waves. They are happy. I am happy. I am able to accept me.
I recall the sight of an elderly woman sitting on a park bench back at home… She glared at me from behind a pair of darkened glasses, the sun shining through a mane of silver locks as I struggled to carry the groceries and attempted to get my two little girls across the street safely. Perhaps she too was looking at me and thinking ‘that used to be me’. Perhaps she once was me, or maybe she sadly wished she could have been. Either way, one day I will turn around and I will be the elderly woman with the silver mane. I will be the lady glaring at another youthful mother juggling between kids and shopping bags and thoughts about who she once was…
But for right now, on my 45th birthday, with my adventurously light lifestyle and all the extraordinary people in my world, with my two precious daughters to feed and to dress, to listen to and to love, and an amazing husband- my companion in life- that actually loves me for me… right now, I can’t help but feeling extremely grateful for all the unique phases of my life, blessed to be able to enjoy this one… the beautiful seashell that my life is inhabiting at this moment. I can’t help but thinking to myself: ‘how incredibly lucky it is just being me!’.
With joy and gratitude,
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I dedicate this post to all the amazing people… gracefully aging. You inspire me. You are not -as my incredible, 91 year old friend Francisco* puts it -“the faces of fear’. You are the faces of hope and wisdom and beauty for all of us to see. May we love you better and offer you a few minutes of our time. May we give you back your voice and your dignity and your love for life. You have so much to say and we have so much to learn. We are your past. You are our future. Because there will come a time when we will all find ourselves saying, “That used to be me”.
Right: Bisnonna Iride (Havana and Kenia’s great grandmother), at 94 she still cooks, cleans, gardens and is all spirit! Ti vogliamo bene Nonna Iride!)
Left: Tao Porchon-Lynch (born Tao Porchon, August 13, 1918) is a French-Indian yogi, dancer, former model, and former actress. She has continued to advocate and teach yoga actively. In May 2012, Guinness World Records recognized Porchon-Lynch as the world’s oldest yoga instructor at age 93; She is now 96 years (born August 13, 1918).
Right: Bel Kaufman, author of the 1960s hit novel “Up the Down Staircase,” about teaching in an inner-city school, lectured widely on the topic “surviving through humor.” At the age 99 she was still teaching younger generations about life and humor. She passed on last July at the age of 103.
Right: Our daughter, Kenia Nelson is named after Nelson Mandela, died at the age of 95 (July 18,1918 – December 5, 2013).
Left: Chef Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old activist who was arrested in 2014 for serving meals to the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Right: Hidekichi Miyazaki, 103-year-old Japanese sprinter.
*And…our friend Don Francisco, ex pilot. At 91, his mind is as sharp as a knife. He doesn’t look a day over 77 and has the energy of a 30 year old. We met Francisco 7 years ago in Costa Rica. He still walks around the park for an hour every day and still travels all alone between his 5 different homes in Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain and Florida in the USA. He invited our family to come over for a home-cooked meal this weekend.
Some other faces of hope and wisdom and beauty….