That said, returning to a place can feel comforting, reassuring. Predictability is a kind of cushiony guarantee that yes, some things can stay the same and yes, this is the antidote for many of my fears and anxieties. Perhaps this is why I live in one of the most unpredictable, dynamic cities in the world—the wise part of me yearning for growth and integration knows that establishing a sense of grounding and surefootedness in spite of constant change is something I need to practice. After 13 years of living in New York, I've realized that the pace of things here means that change isn't only inevitable; it has often already happened and I mostly likely missed it.
About a year ago, my former roommate and I strolled down our old street and noticed that Richie, our elderly neighbor who used to sit outside the barbershop next door and chat with people passing by, wasn't in his usual spot. His flimsy, off-kilter picnic chair—which always sat outside the barbershop, day or night—was also gone. We checked the resident listing on our old apartment building and noticed that his name wasn't alongside apartment six. My heart hurt. We continued down the street, lamenting how seven years can collapse as fast as seven hours, how things change and how often we forget that we, too, are changing—a necessary fact that we choose to mourn rather than celebrate.
Eventually I was able to navigate through spotty parts of the seaweed and walk closer to the edge of the water. The tide was gentle. As I continued down the beach, I noticed scattered bits of trash embedded in the seaweed. Bottle caps, clear plastic food wrappers, flip flops, Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic forks, and glass beer bottles stuck out at every angle. I kept hoping I would come to a patch of pure seaweed with no trash, but that never happened.
This was happening at nearly every hotel and resort along the mile-long stretch of beach. As the sun rose higher and higher, teams of men rushed to rake, dig, cart off, dump, and bury the dark, stinking, trash-lined seaweed mess on the beach—all before the tourists got up for breakfast. Each morning, I watched these teams of men feverishly try to contain, collect, and hide this unwanted blemish on what has always been regarded as Mexico’s most pristine tropical shoreline.
This exercise, while completely necessary in some ways (between the stench of the seaweed and its vast coverage, the beach was off-limits), also seemed maddeningly futile. Every high tide that came in and flowed back out carried more of the sand away, unearthing the buried seaweed and sweeping it back out to sea, where it would inevitably wash ashore—if not the next day, then the day after. The issue wasn’t just the seaweed; the waves uncovered and drew all of that enmeshed trash back into the ocean. This was trash that could have been collected and recycled or properly disposed of.
I no longer want to notice changes in passing, especially the environment's steady degradation. I don't want to step over piles of empty cigarette lighters and dirty Q-tips on the beach and wonder when things got so bad. I don’t want to stand where a dense forest once was and feel saddened by its absence, wishing that I had made more of my time there to appreciate it, to cradle it, and to protect it from recklessness.
Change is inevitable. I know this and I'm trying to embrace it in all aspects of my life. I'm also trying to act with the understanding that all things—especially the earth—are impermanent and vulnerable. Despite this, I also know that I need to petition for something better and more sustainable.
I’m not quite sure what that is just yet. Next week, I'll be back at the beach to see what I can discover.