Happiness

■ Self-initiated self-caring

Do you enjoy your vacations? What do you usually do with them? Sandy was a boy I met who looked forward to his summer vacation more than anything else. His family usually went to the beach, and he loved it so much.

Sandy's real name was Alexander, though everyone had called him Sandy for as long as he could remember. When he did learn that Alexander was his real name, it came as a surprise. It was difficult to understand how "Sandy" could be derived from "Alexander." The two names sounded and, when written, looked so different. He preferred to think that he was called Sandy because he loved the sandy beach so much. Thinking that made it feel like he and the beach were meant to be together, that they belonged together. The beach was sandy and he was Sandy.

At the start of the summer vacation, the family drove from their home in the city to the beach house, usually arriving late in the afternoon. By the time the car was unpacked, everyone was settled in, and dinner was cooked, it was time for bed. Sandy didn't mind being sent to bed because he couldn't wait to get up early the next morning. He couldn't wait to run along the beach and feel the wet sand under his feet. He couldn't wait to get down on his knees and feel his hands scooping up the soft grainy sand. He knew the feel of patting it into a sand sculpture, of its growing firmer with each pat, of smoothing his hands down the sides and shaping the creation that he was making.

Sometimes it was a castle, sometimes he might make a dinosaur, and sometimes he would create a sandman. The sand felt coarse, heavy, and cool when damp, warmer and lighter when dry. He was free to imagine and build whatever he wanted.

He loved the comforting warmth of the summer sun on his skin, though he was old enough to know, without being told, to cover up, put on a hat, and apply sunscreen so the sun didn't burn his skin a painful red. Wow, what a feeling as he ran down the beach and jumped into the cool, salty water! He would lie on his back and float without a care, as though some loving hands were supporting him. Floating in the sea felt so much easier and freer than when he'd tried it at the swimming pool where he went with his school for swimming lessons. At the end of the day, the cooling sea breeze turned his skin goose-bumpy.

He enjoyed all the differing sounds that he never heard at home. That first night sleeping at the beach house was always special. It was so wonderful to drift off to the sound of the waves lapping the beach, especially when you never quite knew just what mood they might be in. Sometimes they would be crashing, strong, and powerful, while at other times they were gentle and relaxed—a soothing, swishing sound across the sand. Sometimes they were regular, wave after wave, and at others they would be chaotic and confused. Sandy lay in bed playing a game of matching his breathing to the waves. It was often the last thing he remembered before awakening in the morning to the comical squawking and squabbling sounds of the seagulls fighting over a scrap of leftover food.

As they drove to the beach house, he would roll down his car window, waiting for that first salty smell of the sea. Often he could smell it in the air before they'd crossed the scrubby sand dunes and got their first glimpse of the water.

Early in the morning, Sandy explored what the high tide had washed up on the shore. He might find sun-bleached cuttlefish shells, a colorful starfish, or knotty bits of driftwood covered in weird-shaped barnacles. One vacation, he found the large, round, greenish shell of a turtle's back. In the clear, shallow rock pools were smooth pebbles, scurrying crabs, and tiny, darting fish. He imagined that the twisting white foam left behind by the waves was a bubbly serpent. In bunches of brown, slimy seaweed, he might find little seaweed balls that he could pop between his fingers. Sandy felt at home on the sands of the beach, and I guess that's why he thought it was from there that his name really originated.

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