Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Coconut Man

Time can speed up on you when the game starts getting beyond your reach. There’s just too much going on, and suddenly you’re feeling as if you’ve lost yourself. You’re a starting pitcher watching the runs cross home plate, like Zack Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers was last night. You try and breathe deep and slow it all down.

But it’s hard to do. And I’m not just talking about baseball.

Life in the 21st century often seems like it’s playing out in fast-forward mode. We’re in the car, on the phone, online, answering a text, updating our status, and clicking. Forever clicking. Before we know it, the day is gone. And our to-do list and inbox have grown larger.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had the rare opportunity to leave those clicks behind and let time slow down for a few days. To celebrate my 40th birthday earlier this year and Amy’s 40th next year, we flew to the Bahamas over a long weekend. Our trip was planned with one goal in mind: to relax.

So, over the course of three days on Cable Beach, we read books and held hands in front of the glistening Caribbean. We swam in the water, pointing out fish and picking up shells for our girls. We walked. We lay in a hammock. We ate big breakfasts. We hugged a dolphin. We slept. And, most importantly, we talked – lots. All those things that the typical day doesn’t give us time to say, we said. We also listened to each other, and this led to a lot more nodding and smiling than those fast-forward days often allow.

Two weeks later, we are very much back in New Jersey, where life has returned to normal. The question, of course, is how to go about it all in a way that makes time feel like it’s moving at a slower pace. How can we stay in the game and keep it within our grasp? How can we put life back in “play” mode?

Maybe the Coconut Man can help.

He was strutting along Cable Beach, selling Pina Caladas, Bahama Mamas and Bahama Papas. He smiled to everyone as he walked up and down the white sand with a coconut in hand. “Day-Day-Day-Day!” he shouted, as he bopped along, asking each vacationer if they were up for a drink. I was engrossed in a magazine article when he walked past me, but as I peaked up from the newsprint, he and I locked eyes. “My man, I know you’re reading, and I’m not going to bother you right now. But when you’re ready for some coconut, you just give a call.” We both nodded and parted ways with a fist-bump.

Another tourist approached the Coconut Man for help in getting some beach chairs. Instead of saying this wasn’t his job, the merchant called out to a hotel employee who took care of it. As yet another tourist bought some Bahama Papas, she gave the Coconut Man change that he couldn’t break with the money he had on him. So he explained this, went into the hotel, and got the right change. All the while, he never stopped smiling.

To walk through life with that kind of zest, that kind of awareness of all that the day-day-day-day has to offer, is something to see. Now granted, the Coconut Man is living in a pretty relaxing place to begin with. But selling drinks for a living on the beach is not as calming an experience as being a tourist on the beach. Yet, the Coconut Man seemed to spend his days seeking out all the sunshine, seashells and sand that a day can bring.

How can we keep the game from speeding up? Perhaps the solution lies in being ready for those seashells and coconuts, whenever and however they surface. And, to take it one step further, we can also seek out those shells, rather than assuming an ordinary day lacks the potential for beauty. It’s not easy, especially when runners are on base and the home crowd is roaring in our ears. It’s hard to hear the water lapping at the sand when the daily buzz is humming. But it is there, if we look – and listen – hard enough.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the Bahamas, or encounter the Coconut Man. But I’ll see other people who carry his zest, and find the hidden “Carpe diem” inside their coconuts. Maybe, on my best days, I’ll even be one of those people. Now that’s something for the to-do list.