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Beach weekend puts life’s small worries into perspective

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It was a peaceful weekend for me, devoid of controversy and drama, the kind of weekend everyone ought to have at least once in awhile.

On Friday, I headed for the beach to enjoy the annual meeting of the Eastern North Carolina Press Association at Pine Knoll Shores. We met in the hotel where we’ve met for probably 20 years, and the agenda really hadn’t changed that much over the years either.

Friday night, we had a casual reception followed by a hearty seafood buffet, a brief after-dinner speech, and the rest of the evening enjoying shop talk just as every industry group I’ve known likes to do. Saturday morning, after breakfast, we spent a few minutes conducting business before enjoying several more hours of a roundtable discussion based on the same kinds of issues we explored in more casual shop talk. By early afternoon, we were talked out and heading home in time to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday.

The media in general is always embroiled in one controversy after another, and the national news was no less frenzied over the political shenanigans in Washington that have so divided Democrats and Republicans. But except for a few scattered references now and then, we didn’t talk about the “big issues” of the moment.

Our conversation was more local, swapping stories about what was going on “at home” as we swigged our beers or sipped our drinks, hard and soft. We’d nod somberly over news of colleagues who had died over the year and looked around to see which of our fellow editors and publishers had shown up, or not shown up, as in years past.

We’d catch up on industry gossip, of course, This year there had been more newspaper sales than usual, and it took awhile to sort out the various shakeups and consolidation that had followed them. A few deals were undoubtedly sparked as the evening turned to night.

But for a lot of the time, between the work-related morsels, we talked about ourselves. We talked about our spouses and their doings, and about our children and their grand accomplishments. To the young and old, family life is important. I did notice, though, that more of the family news revolved around grandchildren than I remembered previously, and a whole lot of us compared notes on the aches and pains associated with getting old and, in some cases, slowing down.

One thing I noticed yet once again, as I first entered my hotel room and later that night looked out over the balcony as the wide expanse of beach stretched out endlessly to my left and right and the softly undulating water extended unbroken to the horizon as far as I could see, was how the vastness of the ocean even from the shore can dwarf human activity in its timeless ritual of ebb and flow.

I’ve noticed the same phenomenon when driving through or staying in the mountains, as the highways moved up and down around the massive slopes or as I look outside hotel windows at the gigantic peaks towering around and above me. Their sheer size again overwhelms the relatively small human activity that teems around their base.

I’m not entirely sure what it is that so catches my attention, whether it’s the solid, unmoving mountains or the restless bobbing of endless water. They both share a sense of vastness, a large example of nature that seems permanent and fixed, calm anchor points in lives so often out of control.

In some ways they are the earthbound equivalent of the night sky filled with millions of stars twinkling against the black background, another example of vastness against which our lives can seem so small and the events of the day so comparatively inconsequential.

Light pollution has dimmed some of the sharp vastness of the sky at night, obscuring so many of the stars. And life pollution has a way of obscuring the vastness of mountains and oceans. Those who live in either place can easily get so used to the hills and waves that they cease to amaze and can fade into the background we take for granted.. Daily schedules and obligations don’t lend themselves to contemplation of the beauty around us when we’ve got a deadline to meet or somewhere to be.

But for a brief weekend, as I gazed upon the water and listened to the lap of its waves beating against the sand in steady, tireless rhythm, my problems seemed smaller, my worries less important. What’s one life against the eternity of nature?

Maybe that’s why we like the beaches and mountains so much. They give us a chance to slow down and feel if not ask ourselves the questions that really matter.

It was a good weekend. The world roared back all too soon.

Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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