It was an idyllic Sunday afternoon, with great company, in glorious weather, with a packed lunch on a secluded beach. Having walked a few miles through the woods, the sight, sound and feel of the stunning coastline were breathtakingly beautiful and welcome. After a short amble along the sand, taking in the spectacular landscape, we settled our rucksacks on blankets near the roots of huge fallen trees and began tucking into flasks of coffee, sandwiches and cake. The gentle warm air on our faces, the children exploring the shoreline, the pillow-white clouds in a crystal blue summer sky. All in paradise was blissful.
Everyone had training shoes on – except for someone who insisted, even in 30 degrees, to wear her fur-lined wellies. What can I say? You never know when a grass snake … they were comfortable … well anyway, I’d covered them over with my jeans. As I sat gazing out along the beach, the un-wellied ones went down to the shoreline and began digging for fossils. Shortly after a large dinosaur’s egg, in the form of an impeccably shaped stone was found and we all marveled at the abilities of nature to perfect it.
With two tiny gurus in the party, with minds more curious than cats, a philosophical conversation about the dynamics of nature began. ‘Nature is different from humans’, said tiny person number 1, ‘because humans can negotiate out of a competition but nature never does’. Goodly Lordy. I smiled visibly as I honestly took in a huge breath of air at the magnitude of fathoming in such an adorable little Plato, I mean human, no, I mean Plato.
Ego flailing slightly in wellies, I decided to up the philosophical-ometer, ‘do you think’, I heard my eg… self saying, ‘if you took all the people off the earth, this would be the Garden of Eden?’ It stumped them for a millisecond. ‘Well’, said tiny person number 2, ‘I don’t know about that, but I know about magic’. Oh Jeez … magic, he said, well he really was a relative of mine. I was intrigued. ‘What do you know about magic?’, I asked completely fascinated by the prospect of the answer – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘Magic is just science unexplained’, he said casually, as two dragonflies breezed about his head. It was game, set and match. I’d gone to the beach with Gandalf.
Leaving the blankets and mostly eaten tuck up the beach, we decided to search the shoreline for more dinosaur eggs. Following up the party, I suddenly let out a shriek as my left leg slipped on the sandy mud. Everyone turned around to watch as I slipped again and again like a drunken duck on ice. Only I wasn’t on ice, I’d only had coffee and I wasn’t sure I’d slipped, in fact, it felt like something had a really strong grip around my ankles. With my feet in seeming concrete, I fell forward at the waist, lost my left welly and landed on my knees in the mud. Polite giggling was heard as two loving hands reached forward to help me up. My left un-wellied leg was free but my right was still sinking, and sinking fast. I had two sudden thoughts of panic shoot through my mind, the first that my right leg was being sucked under fast and the second, that the others were unaware that I wasn’t slipping but was being pulled down.
Giggling subsiding, as the mud reached the top of my welly I knew that I had to make a split-second decision and I removed my right foot from the boot and was pulled to safety in my socks. Squatting down, I leaned out just before the boot went right under the mud and I heaved with all my might to pull the welly back out. ‘That’s quicksand’, said Plato, as I tried to resurrect myself as the adult. ‘No, that’s quick-mud’, said Gandalf … and they were both right.
What is Paradise then? A garden of plenty? A rucksack of food and coffee? A sunny beach on a Summer’s afternoon? Or the company of those we love, who, when we suddenly fall under, pull us back up out of the mud and the mire? Paradise is all of these things. Throughout our lives, it is found and lost and found again. As we left the beach, Gandalf found another dinosaur’s egg, perfect except for a slice missing and he handed it lovingly to me. ‘Look’, he said pointing to the missing part, ‘this egg is yours to remind you that you might lose a part of yourself when you go through an experience but that will help you in the future, because if you have that experience again, you will know how to get through it and survive’. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings indeed!
On a beach on earth, I still think wellies are a good choice, particularly since walking back to the car without socks, that fur lining came in comfortably useful. And in a garden in heaven, I personally don’t think any snakes ever existed, only the shadowy flickers of fear that one’s paradise might be lost. But Paradise, I think, as my socks dry on the line, is recognising you have a mind full of coping strategies, albeit derived from experience, a heart from a good place, the company of angels on earth and the wisdom to know that everything is going to be OK.
May your paradise be found.