Follow Up on “Beach”
Some of my readers have asked what “Day at the Beach” is about. Usually I leave readers to come up with their own takes on the text, but felt in this particular case I may have led them astray with overdone symbolism and bloated stream of consciousness. So back to the text.
Ok, first a little context:
I was in an argument with someone close to me. I don’t remember what we were fighting about. But we were speaking past each other and refusing to acknowledge/address the points the other one made. Predictably, we were unable to resolve our argument and came away with bruised feelings.
Eager to blow off steam, I headed to the beach, as I am wont to do whenever I am not feeling chipper. My equilibrium/inner peace was restored not by what I did on the beach that day, but by a truth that dawned on me as I scanned the beach from end to end. The ocean is an alien and strange entity that Melville termed the “heartless voids.” Yet people swim in it and sail on it on a daily basis. In other words, they engage with the sea despite its mysterious nature. And if we can engage with the realm of the unknown, we certainly can find a way to engage the people we know on substantive issues we disagree on, be it politics, relationships, or something else. “Day at the Beach” can be read as the blueprint of said engagement.
Back to the text now. For real. Lines 1–3 describe the starting point of engagement as the protagonists “dip into warm waters.” Initial engagement is done slowly and almost tentatively and built upon rapport (common interests, safe topics, etc) that allows each side to relax and disarm. The mood here is upbeat to reflect the initial optimism of the process.
Lines 4–11 present the impetus for engaging the other side. The sky and the sun, which represent God, are both impartial (“wink at no one” and “the same light”) toward land (what is known) and the sea (the unknown). Different dimensions of the world still receive the same sunlight filtered through the same cloudy dome. Since fundamental elements of the world are in accord, shouldn’t a baseline of cordiality be afforded to everyone no matter how much we disagree with their views? Doesn’t that baseline include hearing out the other side?
The fun really begins in lines 12–19. The protagonists dive (no pun intended) into engagement head on. They begin to experience discomfort and unease, as symbolized by the shift in both spatial perception and tone. Their gaze moves from nearby objects (seashells and incoming tides) to things further away (“cathedrals of rocks” and cliffs). The tone changes from reassuring in the first three lines to foreboding and slightly unsettling, which are appropriate reactions when we confront worldviews different from our own.
The last three lines mark the end of the engagement as the protagonists “emerge from the blue womb” to signal the rebirth of the self. Hopefully through this almost-spiritual catharsis, we have adopted a more nuanced view without compromising our key principles. To make the world better, we must first better ourselves, especially by reaching out to the other side.