Catching Sand Pipers

I sat on the balcony overlooking the water dancing in sparkling nymphs of light. Every sense was alive. The smell of the salt air. The crash of the waves melting into the whisper of sea foam—a never-ending bubbling over the golden sand. I was on vacation in my favorite central coast city and determined not to waste a moment.

Normally that means trying to pack in as much activity as possible, but as I age I am realizing that “waste” may not mean what I think it means. Waste may not mean a lack of visible productivity. Waste may mean failing to pursue what matters. So I was choosing to simply sit there on the balcony and pursue awareness. Practice mindfulness. Become immersed of the wonder of existence.

As I was “wasting” my time with all this “sitting practice,” I spotted her again dashing down the beach and an enormous smile burst forth unchecked. Our neighbor’s black and white shepherd dog was leaving a wake of dust as she tore down the beach after a distraught sandpiper who was squeaking like a dog toy.

Every day of my vacation this adorable dog with the pink bandana had made it a goal to charge down the beach about 10 ft under some highly agitated bird, wait while it circled out over the ocean to change course and then pick back up the pace in the other direction. Back and forth, back and forth, until I was left breathless watching her. She left a dust storm in her wake and moved like the wind. The energy in her was contagious.

Once, when I was down on the shore line, resting on my boogie board, she walked by me without even seeing me, nose pointed straight forward, creeping on her tiptoes as she approached a flock of birds about 10 feet beyond me. She moved with the stealth of a predator, until her front half got so close to the birds that she seemed to only move her back legs forward, arching her up into a half moon. Then she launched herself into the fray of exploding birds and the chase was on again.

As I watched her from the balcony the thought came into my mind, “She is going to catch one of those birds or die trying.” And the part of me that was thinking about pursuing a full life said, “Wait a minute? What do you mean ‘die trying’? That dog is going to ‘live trying!’”

And it was true. I don’t know if that dog realized that it was never in a million years going to catch one of those sand pipers, but I do know that it seemed more alive in the pursuit. She wasn’t wasting anything.

In that moment, I wanted to be that shepherd dog. Fully alive in the process of the chase, rather than waiting for joy in the attainment. Whether for me that means biking another mile, sitting in silence for another 20 minutes watching my breath go in and out of my body, or putting another 500 words on paper, joy is right there—in the agony, in the stillness and in the creating—because that is the only place I am living. Right here, right now.

So today I salute my little beach friend, and write my first blog post in about 8 months, enjoying every second of the creating, spending my time in the pursuit of real-time joy.

And sure, some things in life I may never catch, like that New York Times best seller list, but before I die, I want to love trying.

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