I sat on the sands of a crowded South Carolina beach last weekend with an old R.E.M. song playing in my mind. I figured that everyone would assume I was listening to my iPod (don't own one), as I bobbed my head to the beat, singing along with Michael Stipes: Shiny happy people laughing. Then I pretended I was Kate Pierson (of the B52s) as she joins in: Shiny happy people holding haaaands.
I don't remember ever having so much fun people watching. The little kids were adorable, as little kids always are at the beach: baby girls in pink, tutu swimsuits; little dudes in swim trunks emblazoned with the eyes of Spiderman or the "S" of Superman. Proud parents taking photos. A grown man running into the ocean like a 6-year-old boy, a beautiful fool: his legs like pumps, lifting his knees all the way up to his chest; his arms spread like wings on a plane; his smile covering most of his face. Meet me in the crowd. People, people. Throw your love around.
My daughter stretched out on her lounge chair to tan her 21-year-old body in a yellow bikini. I sat beside her on my beach chair in my black, one-piece swimsuit wondering why the hell I had stopped wearing a bikini in my mid-20s. I seem to remember that I thought my stomach was beginning to look old. Those words are as sad for me to write as they are for you to read.
"Don't stop wearing a bikini until you are at least 40!" I told her.
She grinned and turned herself over in her chair but I hope she heard me. I hope she wears a bikini until she is at least 65.
"Do you notice how happy everyone is?" I asked her.
"Everybody is always happy at the beach," she said.
I knew that. But I noticed it now in a way that I never had before. It was a symphony laid out in front of me. It was the sun and the sand and the waves turning us all into beautiful fools.
I heard laughter behind me. I knew before looking that it came from women my age. Five women who wore dark, one-piece swimsuits, their bikini days behind them. They played paddle ball like 12-year-old girls, arms flailing and mouths giggling. They ran into the ocean and I watched as they floated over the swells and hooted and hollered and waved their colorful, foam noodles in the air. They were stunning, all five of them. Everyone around, love them, love them. Put it in your hands. Take it, take it.
I've been happily going to the beach every summer since I was a child. But this time, here at the ripe old age of 51, with my bikini days behind me, and my eyes and heart wide open, was the happiest I've ever felt on a beach. I believe the saying that happiness increases as we age, is true.
I can't wait to go to the beach again. I'll be wearing my one-piece swimsuit and singing and looking like a beautiful fool. Happy, happy. Put it in your heart. Where tomorrow shines. Gold and silver shine.
Hey, here we go!