From my seat..........I can see for miles and miles, in fact an indeterminate number miles, I really can’t tell, but certainly as far as the eye can see. Oh yes this seat has an amazing view, it’s very beautiful, although strictly speaking I’m not sitting on a seat, no, rather it’s a wall, a low, yet wide white wall of wavy design that divides the pavement or sidewalk as those American’s like to call it, and beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
I’m facing the sea, the mighty Atlantic Ocean, feeling the sun kissing my face and the gentle sea breeze furl and ruffle my hair like a gentle caress of a tender lover. Immediately to my front and beneath feet is the golden sand that’s tinged with a little grey colour and feels warm and soft between my toes. On the left and on the right are a couple of long tall palm tree, reaching skyward like long gnarled fingers, and their fronds fanning out and soaking up the sun. This beach gently shelves down towards the gentle lapping of the never still always undulating of Atlantic, its vast superior power masquerading as a mill pond today. Its calm as calm can be today.
It’s early November and the late afternoon sun was heading downward, very soon, within the next hour or so certainly, it would be slowly slinking away behind the palms and buildings behind me, but for now, its warming presence is most definitely felt. Just ahead on the left I see a reassuring site, which is also synonymous with a popular 90’s TV show, that of the lifeguard station. Its thin stilt like legs lift the modern hut clear from the sand offering the lifeguard an unobstructed view of the beach. Although, I should really be more accurate and term this structure ‘a tower’ which seems a little odd, as it’s barely four feet off the sand, but there we are, I’m not in charge of name pacing and assigning, so thus a tower it be.
The lifeguard is out, on the veranda that occupies the front portion of the tower, resting his forearms on the guard rail, his eyes scanning the ocean, at least his little section of the undulating water; his colleagues further up and down the beach are similarly scanning their own section of sea. I’ve very rarely go in the sea, at least further than paddle depth, so I’ve never had to call upon his services, but his reassuring presence ensures relaxed beach use.
He’s just packed up a surf board, a floatation device and a couple of cones, all stored in various cubbyholes and lockers about his tower. He’s due to knock off, it’s coming to the end of his shift, soon he’ll be on his way home, free from the shackles and responsibility of looking after the swimming safety of all. However, even in these last few minutes of his working day, he’s still alert, still observant, still ever ready to spring into action at a seconds notice, should the need arise.
He’s been a lifeguard for a good long while now, yet whilst it’s been calm today, deep inside his mind he longs for a day of excitement, of action. Yes, he secretly wishes and longs for a day when all his training, practice and preparation could come to fruition. A special day where he would be the hero, where he could live up to the name on his trunks and jacket and job title. It’s not that he wants anyone to suffer, or get hurt; oh no, not at all, he just wants to be of use, to be in action rather than the backdrop to someone’s holiday snaps, fantasy or story.
His desire to save a life is threefold, first, he wants to put all that training and expertise to use, after all when all is said and done, the primary reason he took up this job in the first place was, to, not to put too finer a point to it, save lives! Secondly he wants to join the ‘savers’ club, the unspoken brotherhood of his peers, the acceptance one can ever only gain after performing such a duty, that special duty. It’s often been said that you are never truly a lifeguard until you have rescued someone from the surf. Thirdly, perhaps most important to him personally, although he’d be loathed to repeat in public, is the desire to make real difference to someone. To give meaning to someone else’s life as well as his own existence. Plus it would sure give the hour upon tedious hour spent alone in his little tower, getting a numb bottom and strained eyes worthwhile.
He gazes out, over the beach, the shoreline, the surf one last time, just before he pulls the sides of the tower down over the windows. He’s making sure that everything is secure, even his little section of the world. His eyes are slightly strained, his brown tanned brow slightly furrowed, it’s been a long day. Once everything is locked up, I see him sit on the bottom of the rung of the sloping entrance ramp to the tower. He pulls his knees up in front of him and rests his forearms on them, yes, he’s still looking out to sea, but this time, he’s not looking as a lifeguard, as a protector, for those flags are down and the sign on the tower proclaims in deep black block letters that the ‘Lifeguard Not On Duty’. No, now he’s looking out to the gently lapping waves of an astonishingly calm ocean as just a boy, just a young man, not quite 21 yet. On such young shoulders is such a heavy responsibility placed, but, those shoulders are broad and perhaps unlike unkind stereotypes of those in his profession, his mind is too. This young man is strong, he carries the responsibility well, with good grace and with the importance it deserves.
He’s waiting for his ride, his dune buggy type vehicle ride to the lifeguard station way way further down the beach, but while he does, he’s eyes retreat from the ocean and survey the beach and beyond where sand meets the feature wall. He sees that man again; the one he saw yesterday afternoon, and the afternoon before that and the one before that. The man whose tanning gently in the sun, the one with the kindly face who always smiles and gives the nod of appreciation each time he passes the tower. He likes that, he likes getting a silent, unspoken vote of thanks, it’s cheery, most people don’t, and they just stare. Yes, he’s noticed that man before, just like he notices everything on his patch, his piece of the beach. For example, he’s noticed that the man, maybe in his late thirties, pads along on bare feet to a midway point along the beach, he’ll either read or listen to an iPod for the first hour or so. Then he’ll get up and stretch his legs, one of which has a long scar, and down to the water’s edge he goes. He stays just a little while, no more than a few minutes, before heading back to his massive big blue beach blanket, there he will tan, alternating between back and front every twenty minutes for another hour or so. He’s noticed that man, always ends the afternoon the same way, sitting on the wall, writing in a little notebook, looking about, from sea to beach to clouds to trees and to the setting sun. For some unknown reason that he can’t fathom, he finds this man’s presence comforting.
The lifeguard’s greenish-blue eyes gaze upon the man sitting on the wall, who’s hurriedly scribbling things down in that notebook of his. The young lifeguards mind wonders what he’s writing down on those pages, ‘perhaps he’s writing a story about me’ he thinks.
His ride comes and he’s away, he’s off down the beach, with a little turn of the head, our eyes meet and we nod to each other with a smile of recognition, along with a whisper of an unspoken bond of appreciation.
Yes, from my seat, here on the white wavy wall along Fort Lauderdale’s beach, I see it all.