After two days of campus tours, informational sessions, and class visits, my mother and I were ready for a break.
Once we had skillfully navigated through L.A., we managed to snag a great parking spot in Santa Monica Pier’s huge lot.
We then made our way up to the pier itself, dodging seagulls who were considerably more comfortable around humans than humans were around them.
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Being a language-lover, it was wonderful to hear all manner of tourists speak in their native tongues, although I could not conclusively identify them all.
As we walked along the pier, I was surprised to see a small number of swimsuit-clad beachgoers actually venturing into the water, which, in mid-March, could hardly be classified as warm. Indeed, between the mid-60s temperature and the wind supplied by the Pacific Ocean, I was thankful for my light jacket.
Although the ocean was lovely and the various hawkers provided an interesting cultural experience, my favorite part of the afternoon occurred not on the pier, but rather on the beach beside it.
As a Minnesota girl starved for any semblance of summer, I slipped off my shoes, rolled up the hems of my jeans, and dipped my feet into the water while my mother stood back from the waves, laughing.
In my vain attempt to re-create my summer experiences on the opposite coast, I even picked up a smooth, glossy shell.
Next, we wandered away from the cool waves and towards the park than runs along the beach.
I was utterly enthralled by the locals who came to the part-playground, part-outdoor gymnastics studio for what appeared to be their regular workouts.
One woman demonstrated an amazing degree of flexibility and strength as she contorted her body into various positions on a balance beam.
A man performed a number of jaw-dropping floor moves while, a few yards away, another appeared to meditate while in a headstand.
My eyes drank it all in: the experienced locals who flew from ring to ring; the children who were happily swinging; the street performer who had convinced a gaggle of teenage girls to dance to his song.
Discarding my jacket, I tried my hand at pastimes I had left behind in Lower School – namely, climbing ropes and pull-up bars over which I flipped and, justly, sent my sunglasses tumbling into the sand.
I was amazed at the serenity and single-mindedness so many were able to maintain despite the hundreds of people surrounding them. This ability to focus on oneself, rather than eschewing a sense of community, worked with it splendidly.
I heartily wished such a space existed in my hometown.
Ultimately, my most vivid memories from that fleeting afternoon in Santa Monica are not of the pier itself or even the vast ocean, but rather of the natural, rare joy that sprouted in my soul while walking barefoot along the beach, hauling myself up a thick rope, and watching the locals seamlessly balance community and self – all while walking on their hands.
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