Every year, we travel along the coast and end up at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This summertime tradition started when I was a youngster. There is nothing quite like witnessing the roar of the Atlantic as it rolls along an expanse of sand. The ocean humbles us, and it is a reminder that our time on this earth is limited, and we are a small part of something much greater.
If I close my eyes, I can still remember my first trip to Myrtle Beach. I remember so well the sea foam smell and the comforting ocean roar, the pitched cries of the seagulls and the giggles of kids as they made sand castles along the shore. I even loved the old-time concession stands with hot dogs and Bratwurst slowly cooking on the grill.
Then my mind settles on a somewhat surreal image. It is an old man pushing a broom along a sunbaked sidewalk. The sidewalk led from the natural beach to the concession stand and onto the parking lot. It was at least a couple hundred yards long and four feet wide.
The old man wore a white shirt, white trousers and white sneakers. He also wore a pith helmet and had a shiny silver badge to make him look official, I suppose. That said, I doubt if people were clamoring to submit their resumes for his “official job.” His sole job, you see, was keeping the sidewalk clean of sand. The task was impossible. Not only did people “track in” sand from the beach, the wind coming off the Atlantic could also whip up on a second’s notice and carry sand with it as well.
Though to our young eyes most adults are “old,” the man was really old. I would not have been surprised had he been a WWI-era veteran. In any case, “officially” he was the sidewalk sweeper. He took his job as a greeter genuinely, but unofficially. People loved talking to him. The conversations usually started out with something like this:
“You’re never quite done, are you?” or, more bluntly, “Don’t you ever get bored?”
He took each comment to mean that someone had a need to talk. He greeted everyone with humor and good cheer. In a couple of cases he also talked to people with compassion and understanding. He was not a Walmart greeter; he had “regulars” who walked his sidewalk every year when they vacationed.
He loved the small children, petted everyone’s dog, and was a wealth of information about the beach and the surrounding area. Indeed, he was the beach historian.
He did his official job with purpose, and he did his unofficial job with passion.
It’s the Little Things
If you’re reading this blog, then you are undoubtedly aware I am an advocate for the concept of “enjoying the ride.” We must enjoy where we are in life and, most importantly, enjoy what we are doing. Now, I have no idea what the sand sweeper did for a living when he was younger, but regardless, he seemed to enjoy his sweeping job late in life. He may have been a bank president or surgeon, a truck driver or a short-order cook. I don’t know, but based on his positive attitude at a menial job, he was more than likely passionate about his former career.
One day it occurred to me that if he didn’t sweep, in a day or two there would be no path. People would have been confused as to how to reach the concession stand and parking lot. There is a very powerful lesson in that. Often, the most mundane of tasks are the most important. A piece of sincere advice: never ever trust a business, organization or even church associate who mocks people of lesser means or more humble employment.
However, the broader lesson is that this old sand sweeping man had meaning and deep purpose in his life. He helped make people a little happier by providing them with a pathway along their journey to and from the beach. He was a joy and comfort to others. He is obviously “gone” now, and in another place, but every time I return to Myrtle Beach, I remember him. He should remind all of us to work for a cause, not for applause, and not strive to make your presence noticed, but to make your absence felt. Make everywhere better because you were there.