One morning at the beach: 
What dawned on us

Pelicans glide over the open ocean and river before crash-diving, splashing, flailing, persisting and emerging with fish. A good model for humans!

The seagulls are having a convention, a thousand folded-up, gray and white bundles, everyone talking at the same time. They’re easy with each other. We’re not. “Ouches” have crept in — sneaky-like, as my Dad would say — and stolen our peace.

The night before, we felt lazy about walking the next morning. Burt said, “Let’s skip it. Let’s go out for breakfast.” Great! We had a date.

Well, I messed things up. I woke feeling righteous, braying platitudes. “We should walk! Keep up the discipline!” (Goody Two Shoes, party-pooper, spoilsport, killjoy.)

Burt looked glum. The ensuing fight was polite. Call it, “Whose idea wins?”

Mine won. It was no fun.

At peek of dawn, a skinny lace of clouds sailed south, halfway up the sky. Chilly air, gray sky. The fresh water stream was bare of birds. No seagulls bathing. No flutter of wings, no dipping and lifting of heads for drinking. Instead, the seagulls were hunkered on the sand, facing the wind, screaming. Here the stream went thin and spread water on an acre of beach.

Pop! The sun edged over the ocean, slanted on the skim of water and turned it pink and silver, very shiny, with blue and white blops, mirrors of sky and clouds, then glossed everything with pink and silver — the air, the ocean rollers, the whole expanse of beach and sky. The day exploded in brightness, a big, roiling day, overweening, and we were the only humans there to take it in.

Burt said, “Nice.” Without joy.

I mourned, down deep. I had ruined everything.

We walked along the shore, looking for sandpipers. We hadn’t seen any for a long time. A lone eagle held down a salmon with one foot. Three pelicans stood in the shallows, identical in stance, the tucked-in necks grandfatherly. We looked out to the ocean. Sure enough. Eight pelicans flew by in a stitch-line, barely skimming the water, rising with a big wave, lowering with the dip. Abruptly, one did the pelicans’ version of fly-fishing. Fly straight up. Fly straight down. CRASH! The first time I saw a pelican crash-dive, I was crying at the rail of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Burt and I were having a fuss. The pelican fell apart as it landed. Splash! Flail! Wings broken, wounded, hopeless, dead. But then it came up safe! With fish! Burt and I too fell apart. Things looked bad. But we flailed and flapped and came up safe, with a re-do as good as fish.

More pelicans appeared, trailing each other in equal spacing. “It’s like gym class,” I chirped. “Like counting off! You stick out your arm …” At school we lined up for calisthenics and extended one arm, at shoulder height, to make even spaces. Burt and I attended school in different towns, but I assumed that counting off was common practice.

He looked stricken. I tried to smile. I demonstrated, raising my arm. “You know, counting off? To make space?”

“NO!” he yelled. “I didn’t do that! Just stop it!”

The beach is huge, but I caught his fury. Stunned, I kept walking. He followed me, asked what was wrong. I said, “Your anger. I don’t know what it’s about!” (I had a feeling I was responsible.)

He said, “It’s space! Growing up, the only child? A kid doesn’t learn to share space! Parents fighting? He hides! He makes his own space! When that space gets invaded, he protects himself!”

I had invaded his space. I had rejected his idea, injected mine. I apologized. He apologized for yelling, said ADD took over. I said his “space” story made me sad. He said he was surprised it was still there. I said I shouldn’t take things personally. We talked some more and got ourselves back.

That was a teeny fuss. We’ve had some doozies. We still fluffle-sputter, but nowadays we whiz through a fuss … Um, not really whiz. Let’s say it takes minutes, not hours? We’re both stubborn. We keep working on those “fair fight” clichés. You know the ones.

“Listen without interrupting.” (Oh, but we love to interrupt!)

“Never say ‘never’ or ‘always’” … (Isn’t that always the way? You never get to say what’s perfectly clear!)

“Avoid blaming, labeling, using bad words.” (Words get stuck in stone!)

“Ac-cen-tu-ate the positive.”(The opposite is a slippery slope! A spiral down to the pits!)

“Say you’re sorry.” (Gulp. Even if I still think I’m “right,” at the weary end of a fuss, I can apologize for discouraging him. And vice versa.)

“Forgive, leave the past behind, restore peace before bed.” (Sigh. Yes.)

We hate fusses. They’re excruciating! But they’re inevitable, and afterward we’re better friends than ever, we know more, and we can laugh again.

We’ve been married for 59 years. We’ve only just begun.

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