Tonight, my daughter Nya and I went walking on Moonlight Beach in San Diego. It is our last night on a long road trip from Colorado before heading home.
We are walking out to a distant staircase below the bluffs. Past many people. Laughing families. Couples staying for the sunset and a little more privacy, wink-wink. Dozens of girls posing for silhouetted bikini Instagram selfies. But one guy, in particular, has grabbed our attention.
He has long black hair and is wearing a wetsuit, or is it a dry suit? I’ll have to look that up. Regardless, it is unzipped to his navel. Allowing copious amounts of curly dark hair to pour forth towards the ocean.
He is maintaining a half-squat pose with his hands slightly raised by his sides. Imagine the love child of Greek God Musician Yanni and the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Machioif, if he grew up to be a surfer, and you get the picture.
His eyes squint towards the setting sun as he subtly adjusts his pose. Two young girls running in the other direction point towards the man and do a terrible job hiding their pointing and laughing. Nya looks at them with a puzzled look.
A few feet past him, Nya turns to me and says, “I respect that guy.” Nya is observant in a shy, quiet sort of way, sugar highs notwithstanding. So her comment catches me off guard.
What I see is the measured practice of a man performing Thai Chi. But she perceives more. Wondering why she chose the word “respect.,” I asked her to tell me more.
She says, “he is just out here among all this,” motioning to the ocean and beach all around us. “He is doing his own thing. I think that’s brave.” Wow, I think. Nya tends to be shy and a bit of a follower.
Often looking for an identity and a way to fit in. She’s 13 years old, so that is natural. She also has the challenge of a larger than life big sisters with personality and energy to spare. Finding her way among that can be intimidating and challenging. For her to notice and respect this guy really intrigues me.
Talks like this, just the two of us, are when she surprises me most. She’s like the wholesome version of Adam Ant’s 1982 hit, Goody Two Shoes. In her case, when she takes off her glasses she transforms from a wallflower into a powerhouse of knowledge and empathetic energy, not an 80’s video vixen!
I remember in 6th grade, at a new school, she entered her school talent show. As a parent, I was terrified and proud of her. She could have dipped her toe in, but she tackled singing the incredibly tricky song, “For Forever,” from Dear Evan Hansen. Initially sung by Ben Platt, most professional singers would avoid this song due to its complex rhythms and range of notes.
But alone on a stage, she faced unknown parents and her middle school peers with steely confidence. She even ignored my attempts to tap out the rhythm by “subtly” stomping on the floor from the third row. I was impressed by her poise and inspired by her courage.
This kid is full of surprises. Her observation on the beach tonight is no exception. Her notice of this man’s confidence to not necessarily stand out, but to be present with himself and the sunset was mind-blowing to me. It is something I aspire to and something I wish for both my girls.
At this moment, I don’t think I could love her more. Her innate understanding of strangers is overwhelming. I feel my grinch heart just grow a size or two bigger. Something my daughters are very good at doing. I am sure it will burst through my chest and kill me one day, and I will blame them for it from beyond the grave. I know they would expect nothing less.
It gives me hope. It also reminds me that everyone processes their surroundings in their own way. Travel provides us with first-hand insights into the vast diversity of the human race. Meeting, speaking, or even just observing others is immeasurably powerful.
I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to travel a large amount of the world. Even more so when I can include my family. Yes, the kids are still working on the benefits of the journey over the destination. But they’ll get there. They are teen girls with iPads, after all. How can nature compete with that? But, Nya’s four little words, “I respect that guy,” give me hope.
I have faith that my daughters will be better for traveling the world. The benefits of getting out of their proverbial pond, be it our town or rising above the pettiness that can arise in school, is already evident in their behaviors towards others. Their desire to explore and comprehend more of the world and gives me hope for tomorrow.
We are all somebody’s child. We have all been exposed to confusing beliefs based on the influence of others. Just as those who influenced us were impacted by someone before them. I believe we are at our best when we put our small-minded thinking on a shelf and listen to both sides of complicated social topics.
I imagine a time when adults can stop passing down their fears, inhibitions, and biases to children. When a new generation can find a future of diverse harmony.
One that forgives the past and embraces the future together. In the meantime, while we have breath, we have the power to learn, grow, and change. It is never too late to accept ourselves and others. Sometimes it just helps to see the world through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl, even if you are a fifty-year-old man child!
Thank You Nya!
How can you (or have your) found yourself in a crowded world? How do you stand out, or simply stand by your own convictions? I’d love to hear in the comments below.