There are few places in the world that display the vast disparity of humanity as blatantly as the beaches of Santa Monica. In one short stroll along the bustling sidewalk, one can observe the hopelessly downtrodden, the wealthiest of the wealthy, and everything in between. All juxtaposed alongside the crashing waves and pristine sand of the Pacific.
As I ran along the Santa Monica beachfront pavement, I watched a toddler waddling after a beach ball while his mother beamed behind him. I saw a withered old woman lovingly applying sunscreen to the motionless hands of her wheelchair-bound spouse. I jogged in between the crumpled bodies of the unwashed homeless and the slick glass patios of the most sought-after beachfront properties.
We see what we focus on. Our brains filter for relevance. And, as I ran, I observed that so many of these people were filtering each other out. I realized that I do this sometimes as well. But today, I chose today to remove all of my filters and truly see as much as I could see. And it was heartwrenching.
As I approached mile 4, I recognized that perhaps I was being slightly overdramatic. But, on the beach at that time, the sheer fleeting nature of humanity was just so plain sad. We are here on this planet for a blink of an eye and then when we finally figure it all out, we pass away from this world. And, in the midst of that short blink, we still can’t find the courage to actually see each other.
I ran further along the Santa Monica road and saw two lovely mothers arriving at the beach with their five children, preparing for a day in the salty waves. I smiled. Togetherness. Family. Friendship. I watched as I approached them on the path. This, this is what it is all about.
“Booker, your mother said you have to wear your hat the whole time you’re here. Okay?” As I passed them, I realized — the two women weren’t those children’s mothers. They were their nannies.
Disappointed that my lofty ideal was brought back down to reality, I increased my pace. The Santa Monica waves crashed on the shore, I felt the warm sun reflecting off the bright sand onto my face. The beauty of the planet; Mother Nature unfurling her peacock feathers. I appreciated it for what it was, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it. I was inwardly fuming.
My brain screamed in protest. What are we all doing? Why is the process of being human so difficult? Why do we pass our short time on this planet piddling it away?
I wanted to shake everyone and say, “It’s the other people that are important. Can you see them? No, you’re not looking. Really look. Actively turn your attention away from the text messages, the pursuit of the glossily luxurious life, the dopamine dump of the next distraction."
Look at each other. Yes, it is hard. That’s why we look away so much. That’s why we pull out our phones when it’s awkward, why we look to the sky when we see a person sleeping on the ground, why we leap onto the treadmill of life and away from true connection.
I realigned my gaze. I looked.
I saw a young woman sitting on the sand alone. Her flowered summer dress was crumpled under her freckled legs and she was crying silently while she stared at the crashing waves. I saw her.
I left the sidewalk and trudged through the sand toward her. She looked up as I approached, tears glistening in the morning sun. I didn’t know what to say. I had been drawn to her, but I had no plan. Our eyes met.
“I think you’re beautiful,” I blurted.
“Thank you?” she asked.
I walked back to the path and continued on my way. It had been harder than the alternative. But it was a drop in the right bucket.
Humanity. Connection. Truth. Santa Monica.