This week I stood on the beach overlooking Swansea and it was beautiful. The sea was flat and still, like an alpine lake, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun bathed my body in warmth…and in that moment of pure bliss I found myself feeling sad.
Even I found myself questioning that emotion. I really can’t imagine life being any more perfect than in that moment, but although my feet were firmly planted on the sand my mind was somewhere else. I was already thinking about the months ahead when the warm sun would be a distant memory undoubtedly replaced by squally showers and cold northerly gales. September would be so much more enjoyable if it wasn’t followed by October, November and December?
I remember when ‘living for the moment’ used to be considered a criticism. Parents and teachers would tell you that you needed to plan ahead, look to the future, and ask yourself where do you want to be in 12 months’ time? Now I think being ‘in the moment’ is a gift. Too often in my life I feel I’ve been somewhere else, dreaming of a better future when what I really should have being doing was enjoying the heaven I was living in at the time.
I’m going through a lot of life changes at the moment. Losing my dad at the same time as becoming a grandfather has made me think about life, and its meaning. If I’m honest I haven’t come up with any big answers, but I have been learning a lot of lessons and my teacher has been my granddaughter.
Me and my girl off for a walk down to the sea
If we ever needed lessons in how to live ‘in the moment’ then taking a good look at how children are able to enjoy life to the full might be a good start. To my granddaughter everything is now. I’ve noticed that she displays a distinct lack of forward planning. She wants to do everything, and there’s no time like the present.
When she arrives at our house she knows exactly where the toys are kept. Off she goes to empty the basket of wooden lorries and puppets and books. At the end of her time with us we are starting to ask her to tidy up. We’ve made it into a game. When everything has been put away she then wants to take them all out and start again. When she realises she’s actually going home she usually starts to grizzle a little bit. By the time she’s in her push chair and being wheeled down the road she is smiling again, waving and onto the next thing. Sometimes I feel a little bit sad because even before she is completely out of sight I’m pretty sure she’s moved on; she’s enjoying some new game being played with her mum and dad.
One of the highlights of this week has been taking my other little girl to the beach. Due to the coronavirus crisis my youngest daughter has moved back from London and has been working from home. In many ways she has reintroduced me to the beauty of our city. A couple of mornings this month she has left the house in the dark in time to see the sunrise over the bay. I’m not a terribly good swimmer and over the years I must say I’ve been reluctant to go into the sea because, well, it’s cold. This past week or so she has encouraged me to join her sea swimming and it’s been fantastic.
Getting into the water is always going to be difficult. I’m told we have 12 times as many cold receptors in our bodies as we have warm ones so that shock to the system when the waves finally reach your tummy is to be expected. But once you’re in, as the saying goes, it has been beautiful.
The great thing for me about swimming in the sea is I can’t take my phone so there are no distracting emails or texts and I can’t wear my glasses so I can’t see any detail further than a couple of metres. So, we’ve splashed and chatted and stared at the horizon and talked about the future and the past, but we’ve been together ‘in the moment’.
Once I had rediscovered the joy of sea swimming it was only a matter of days before I decided I needed to share this with my granddaughter. Its quite a palaver getting everything ready to take a young child to the beach. Having had 4 kids, I thought I had some experience but obviously time is a great healer and I must have forgotten about the almost military levels of kit needed for a successful trip. Packing took hours, she helped, it was just another game for us to play together.
I was worried that the water would be too cold, that the waves would be too big; that she might be scared of the noise from all of the others running and jumping in the water. She loved it. She screamed as the waves came in over her knees. I panicked and tried to comfort her only to find she had the biggest smile on her face. The stronger the waves, the bigger the smile. Even when the sea splashed into her face she spluttered a bit and laughed again.
Then came the moment we had to leave. We walked out together but as I let her hand go, because she really values her independence, low and behold, she turned around and ran straight back in. There were grizzles as eventually it became clear that we really did have to go home but inside a couple of minutes she was eating some sliced apple, singing some songs…she had moved on.
Where does that leave me this September, am I able to take any of these lessons into the autumn? I think we are all in a difficult place at the moment with our mental health. This pandemic has altered our lives in so many unexpected ways and it looks as if the effects are here for some time to come. We have worries for our futures and the past seems a very different country.
I know that winter is coming, and the sun is only here for a short time, but I am resolved as much as I can to live in the moment. To enjoy every last ray of sunshine, every swim, every time I can take my top off and feel the sun bless my body with more vitamin D.
I will try to see tidying up as a game not a chore, try not to pout when one perfect moment has to give way to something else because being sad about losing something can make it hard to appreciate something new.
Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, maybe I’d just forgotten the old ways of how to enjoy life, maybe I just need to learn to be a child again.