I’m sitting on a stingily padded barstool in rundown wooden shack serving cold beer and fresh oysters fished out of the water only hours before.
A man with a roughly cut white beard sits down two seats away. My new friend, that is someone I met in the past fifteen-minutes, turns and welcomes him.
“Hey Tom,” he says, “good to see you again.”
Tom, as my new friend tells me, is giving him advice on how to retire.
Looking over at his rumbled floral shirt and a mop of white hair beneath a straw hat, I wonder where my friend is going with this.
Turning back, my friend tells me he’s been an elementary school principal, a marine merchant and a truck driver. He’s looking to retire permanently after years of working different jobs.
“Teaching school was good, but the superintendent was just too much to deal with,” he said leaving my imagination to fill in the blanks.
Tom leans forward and catches my eye and introduces himself.
“Yes, it’s all about keeping your overhead low and finding ways to keep from spending money,” he says.
Pulling out a small knife and reaching for a nearby palm leaf, he proceeds to explain his secret.
“Take this,” he says, holding up both the knife and palm leaf. “With these two things I can generally find away to trade a few of these hand-made roses to the owner for my drinks.”
Before his sentence is done I realize there will be no advice on how to best position a 401K for long term growth.
Placing the blade in the center of the green foliage, he pulls the leaf away from the blade as to control the cut.
“There,” he says, “and I’m on my way for a free drink.”
The question comes up about how long he’s lived here – that is along the Florida coast.
“Oh, about twenty-years or so I’d say.”
“It must be nice living here – living in paradise,” someone else says.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he says as he folds two of the newly cut strips of green into a curiously contorted shape.
“But to tell you the truth, after a while the magic fades. Today, for example, is just Thursday to me.”
A large tray of oysters lands in front of me and I think back to how my wife always says she’d love to live along the coast.
“But you know,” she says, “I’d hate for all of this to fade into the background and it lose this special feeling.”
I look back down the wooden bench to the man threading strips of green into an increasingly recognizable shape. I smile thinking maybe, if his plan plays out, in a few minutes he’ll trade them for a free beer or two.
His words – not the ones about his retirement plan – continue to hang in my mind. How does a day in paradise become just another Thursday?
Paradise is a tricky proposition. Is it the allure of being somewhere different from where our stakes are currently planted or is it a destination we will all one day hope to reach? In the end, is paradise a physical place or a state of mental being?
Suddenly a form rises from the cut leaves on the table. His creation is truly beautiful.
Looking down the wooden table I realize the search for paradise is not for me to answer. Each of us will need to find our own calling, our own destination, on our own terms. The answer, however, lies between our ears and our heart.
– 30 –