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Behind the Words PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stuart Sheldon, BT Contributor   
June 2019

Threading the needle of human connection

“Mbigstock-Little-Boy-Surfing-On-Tropical-266739349en of few words are the best men.” -- William Shakespeare, Henry V.

I now seek tranquility and will say far fewer words in the second half of my life than I did in the first. Hopefully, my lovely, loquacious children learn the efficiency of soft spoken language now, to spare them the millions of words I’ve wasted.

Where I surf (when not in Miami), the voice of one man can always be heard above the rest, pontificating and force-feeding his thoughts to the world. We’ll call him Loud. A skilled and balletic surfer, he can be pleasant and gregarious. However, my general greeting to Loud is a silent, neutral nod because Loud also berates those he deems to have somehow compromised his enjoyment of the waves. He rarely hesitates to paddle back at them with code red vocal guns blazing. Cleary, if others in the ocean (or anywhere) are forced to hear your private conversations, you’re doing it wrong.

On a recent morning, Loud’s ever-rising tenor once again mocked our concentration and the sea’s unspoken default to human silence. This time, however, I was the one at whom Loud’s rifles were pointed. Apparently, my error had blown his wave. But even if it had, we’re here every day. My bad, next one’s yours, amigo! But nope, Loud came hard, eyes aflame, screaming like a sucker-punched drunk about my character and lack of etiquette.

“Why are you yelling?” I asked.

“I’m not yelling!” he yelled.

“Chill!” I urged.

His volume only rose, and I felt more sorry for him than offended, as I paddled away, remembering the adage, “Never wrestle with a pig because you both get covered in slop…and the pig likes it.”

I fist-bumped him in the water the following day to reset the machinery because I don’t believe Loud is a bad man. I’ve watched him bestow kindnesses and surf tips to children in the water, mine included. Things returned to their baseline with his decibel level a backdrop we all endured. Then last week, walking back to the parking lot after a session, I found Loud drying off at his truck, parked right next to mine.

I stowed my board, pulled my rash guard over my head, and as I wrung seawater from it, asked, “Where you from, Loud?” He told me of his earlier life, growing up abroad, living in California and Central America with his wife.

Wrapping a towel around my waist, I asked if he had kids. Instantly, his face collapsed like a closeout wave. This boisterous man then spoke softly, as he shared with me how badly he wanted children, yet they couldn’t. They were now looking into adoption and hoped to start a children’s surf school.

I remembered so vividly our own difficulties having children. The hopelessness. In that dusty parking lot, I began to relate to this complex man. Later that day, I shared Loud’s story with my children and explained how I, too, was prone to speak loudly much of my life, when my enthusiasm got the best of me. “Keep it down,” I’d been told many times. I wanted my boys to see that people are rarely as they appear, and to ask, who are we to judge?

I saw Loud again the following day, and the next, because we are brothers of the ocean. But now, when I catch his booming voice, whether joking or screaming, what I really hear is his guttural response to the unfairness of life. He bellows to counter the silence of his wished-for child. Redirects his frustrating rage at surfers who interrupt his only flow state, on his board. I see you, Loud. I’d appreciate a bit more silence from you; at least, a bit less volume. But now I feel what lies beneath the surface of the turbulent waves within your soul.

Epilogue: Not long after writing the above, I watched Loud drop in on (i.e., steal) a wave from a friend of his and proceed to ride the wave with his friend riding just behind and hooting for Loud to jump off, standard etiquette. Not only did Loud continue to ride the wave, ruining his friend’s experience, but he then paddled back to the man he wronged and screamed at him, eventually dismounting his board and starting a physical fight with his mild-mannered buddy.

It was the worst of Loud at the extreme, and it made me believe, notwithstanding his legitimate pain, that some folks are simply better to be avoided. This too I shared with my kids, a glimpse at how confusing and nonlinear human connection can be. Hopefully, they heard me, loud and clear.

 

Stuart Sheldon is an award-winning artist, author, and Miami native. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram @stuart_sheldon and his blog at FancyNasty.us.

 

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