It’s not easy living in paradise. I am confronted with decisions, like are we going to hang out on the beach, go fishing, or go for a little drive to gawk at multi-million dollar coastal homes. Maybe I will do a little writing from our porch overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
These weighty decisions demand my attention. I have to decide which pair of shorts to wear, the ones I wear on the beach to play in the ocean, or the ones I wear most everywhere else. For special occasions, it’s simple, the same sleeveless tee and pair of flip flops, but that’s only when I need to get dressed up. That’s how people dress on our favorite gulf coast barrier island.
There are a few young and beautiful people here, hunky boys, and and bikini clad girls, all with body fat percentages near the age of my grandson. They show up on weekends. But most of the people here are east coast folks and Canadians in their fifties and sixties, some even older. There are other hairy-chested men with big brown bellies. There are older women who overflow their swimsuits, or leaner ones who still show a lot of skin, but look like they were shriveled up by the sun.
We have Russian neighbors, Boris and Natasha and Natasha’s girlfriend. (My limited imagination assigned them names.) I like Boris, who now resides in the Chicago burbs, not far from where we live. He is very friendly and has a bone crushing handshake. We think he is in the “import/export business.” But mostly I like Boris because he is heavier and hairier than me and never wears a shirt. He is my license to go topless in paradise. Being comfortable, a little bold, but unashamed is how one should dress in paradise.
In paradise half naked people can have great conversations with each other without being the least bit self conscious. Everyone here is relaxed. That’s relational paradise.
Everything is so different than where I live in the upper Midwest near the beautiful, but icy shores of Lake Michigan. I saw a pelican eat a rather large fish yesterday. He just had to get it turned around to align with his beak, then it was one gulp and no more fish. We saw a dolphin, well, Patty saw a dolphin. I saw a dorsal fin that might have belonged to a dolphin. But many times, we have seen both dolphins and manatee down at the North Jetty and on the sunset boat rides.
It’s an exotic place. The palm trees, the hibiscus, and hundreds of other plants that grow here that I never will see in my far northeast corner of Illinois add so much color and flair to the landscape, like vegetative eye candy.
Shells are everywhere. Parking lots, sidewalks, and streets are made out of them. When the waves roar in, they rattle and tinkle along the last little ridge by the shore, sounding like a wind chime made of them. I can’t even take a walk splish-splashing along the shore without being sucked into shelling. Today, I even found starfish, along with a four-inch clam shell, whelks and conches.
It was an unusual evening with no sunset over the ocean to toast with a glass of wine. That’s okay. The sunsets we have almost every other day are so spectacular it makes up for a cloudy evening or two.
We eat about seventy-five percent of our meals on the table that sits on our deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. That is where I am right now. It’s 8:50, dark enough that my computer screen seems blindingly bright against the night. I sit here listening to the waves crash on the beach a few yards away, with no shoes, no shirt, no problems, and not even any mosquitoes, because I am in paradise.
But in a few days we will go home. The weather will not be great. It never is dependably decent until June or even July. There will be a physical proof of my newest book waiting for me. I will have to pull out all of the stops for the book launch, and authors hate marketing. It is a lot of work to expand your email list and to keep feeding various platforms new information. It’s technical and a lot less fun than writing, but if you want to sell books, it is absolutely necessary. There are other books in various stages to move through the process. There is a bunch of summer homeowner projects from plantings to deck building to cleaning out an overloaded basement waiting for me. There is always stuff to do in advocating for my parents and brother and managing their affairs. There will be unexpected things turn up. That’s what life is like.
So, I wonder in the midst of the mundane, the frustrating, and the difficult, how can I keep paradise alive. I can hold to the memories that we have of this place, which is one our favorite places on earth. But memories of a great vacation or lovely piece of geography will not sustain a troubled soul.
The secret is the soul. It must be at peace to experience peace anywhere. Therefore, maintaining our own soul is infinitely more important than planning our vacation. I could go full on preacher now, but nobody really likes that. Instead, I will throw some “what ifs” your way.
What if you don’t need to strive to please God or do more good stuff or less bad stuff to get him to like you? What if everything is already done for you to have a relationship with God? What if all you need to do all you need to to do is honor that by living a life of gratitude and love? What if God showed us how to live and it is summed up in one word, “love?” What if God’s love toward you were already running a peak level? What if you are free to live out who you really are?
Then paradise would be in our hearts and we would carry it with us wherever we go.
I wrote these words a few days ago while vacationing in Florida.