t is difficult to believe that a few weeks ago the beaches of York were filled with vacationers and sun-worshippers, enjoying the warm air and beautiful white sands of our shores. The warm air and the smooth sands are still here, but the inhabitants are now very different. Few are seen lying in the sands. Most are walking up and down the beach where the water meets the sand, enjoying a remarkably sad serenity. This has always been one of my favorite times of year. It is a time of rest when I can make myself slowdown to enjoy my fortune of living in York.
Because of September 11th this has also become a special time for all of us. We find ourselves in deep thought over the prospects of war. Prospects that few of us remember as being part of our lives. This reality also makes us realize that our lives, as we knew them, are destined to change. The primary reason for this is that we just don’t feel safe and secure anymore. The terrorists of a world whom we thought would never enter our homes are now here. The people who hate us for what we have, and for what our forefathers earned, are now organized and powerful enough to change the way we live.
These changes will be subtle, but they will involve a loss of some of our freedoms. We will probably be asked for our identification more, when we board any form of transportation. Our belongings will be searched a bit closer as we walk through all security areas. In fact, I believe that it will soon be necessary to carry identification wherever we go. Many say that these changes are for the best; we are told that they are for our safety and the safety of our families. I just can’t get myself to believe this. I just hope I never have to carry identification when I walk down our roads and beaches; I couldn’t do this for rarely do I wear clothes with pockets.
Walking down Long Sands Beach I watch as people pass me, walking in the opposite direction. Unlike past years, they all seem saddened and deep in thought. In order to forget some of my own thoughts I try and imagine what these other people of the beach are thinking. I watch a middle-aged couple walking toward me. They are tightly holding onto each other as if they are afraid that someone is going to take them away from each other. In past years I have watched this type of people smiling and laughing together, in hopes that their happiness could overwhelm the sounds of the ocean.
Today I watch them solemnly walking where the ocean meets the sand. As they get close to me I wonder if they have a young son or daughter who they fear may be called to arms to defend their country. I wonder if their child is part of our military, waiting for the time to go where destiny tells them to go. Right before we are about to pass each other I notice that the woman shyly looks up, and for a microsecond looks at me as I pass. I wonder if she is afraid of me because I am a stranger to her. In times past a smile always accompanied this look. Today, there is a glimmer of fear.
I guess the confidence of meeting strangers is another part of our culture that the terrorists took away.
Walking a bit farther down the sands I watch as a very young couple are walking toward me. They are in their late teens or early twenties and unlike the couple before they are walking apart from each other. Their voices are very low and soft, talking about something that must be very serious and important but, then again, aren’t we all. My mind tries to figure out why they walk away from each other. I wonder why they fear getting too close. Are they afraid they might become too fond of each other, only to be pulled apart by this present reality? As they pass me I notice that the young man looks down at his feet and stops his conversation. The girl, on the other hand, looks up at me and in her eyes I see that she is angry. She doesn’t understand why her young life should be different from what she was always told and always thought it would be. At least this is what my mind thinks her mind is saying. I believe I think this because I am also angry. I also understand that it isn’t fair.
My next encounter is with a woman walking her dog. She has bright-red hair that is mimicking the wind. Her dog is making circles around her, jumping and barking, hoping to make his master happy but, she continues to walk in a straight line where the ocean meets the sand, looking as though she has a destination at the end of her walk. That can’t be because there is never a true destination at the end of any walk down the beach. This woman’s dog finally does something that many dogs did before him. He crouched down and presented our fine sands of Long Sands Beach with a present that he himself created. The woman stopped for a few seconds and waited until the dog was finished. She then looked at me wondering if I thought it necessary to pick up this present. She gave me a sly look and continued her walk. I mean how could something as insignificant as dog waste be compared with what was going on in our world.
In the past I would have been angry but today is so different from what our past was. I also notice that everyone who is on the beach this day is walking by the water. Few are seen on the soft white sands that lead up to the wall that was put up to protect us from the ocean. A protection we always thought was destructible but, after the horror of September 11th, we all understand that no protection is indestructible. Even the small children seem to be more interested in their thought than their play. They are still seen digging in the sands, in tiny circles of friends but, they seem quieter than they did in the past. Could children, this young, know what is going on in their world? Should they be allowed to know?
I stop my walk and look out into the ocean that has become so familiar to me over the past quarter of a century. I look to my right and left and observe many people standing, like statues in the sand, looking out into the enormity of the sea. I know that we are all trying to have the beauty and the majesty of the sea make us forget our present realities. We want to have the pulsating white frothed waves of the ocean wash away the memory and the reality of what happened on September 11th. For a few seconds it succeeds. The colors of our ocean have forever been written about and are pictured in pastels, watercolors, oils or photographs.
On the beaches you can’t only see the green of the ocean with its frosty white caps; you can feel and smell how perfectly combined the colors are, how the browns of the sands go with the deep blues and grays of the sky. Our sky over our ocean always takes a different form than that of a normal sky. Its colors complement the sea’s so perfectly that one seems to be a continuation of the other. The clouds of this sky appear to form holes at the end of massive tunnels, sneaking a peek at a hopeful heaven in the sky. Sometimes a small boat breaks this consistency by daring to float between the sea and the sky. The quiet is the most intense feeling this time of year. Especially this particular time of year. Even the sound of my footsteps seems to naturally belong to the serenity of the ocean.
It is difficult to believe that a few weeks ago our hopes and aspirations were very different than they are now. The warm air and the smooth white sands are still here but the inhabitants are now very different.
Everything is truly different.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org