I love to run on the beach. Especially at sunrise. When we go to the beach any time of year, my body wakes me up ready to run just before the sun comes up. When you're out that early, you don't see many people but you kind of feel like you have a little something in common with them. Some are running or speed walking but others are just up to appreciate the light show as the sun breaks over the Atlantic.
Here in the South, we say hello to people. I consider the Grand Strand area of South Carolina to be "my beach". I don't live there but I do live in the state and I spend a lot of time there throughout the year. I know that most of the people I encounter on the beach have traveled from other states and many of them may have even ventured there from a northern state. With this in mind, I consider it my duty to wish a good morning to each person I pass while running. Other runners appreciate it and chalk it up to the brotherhood/sisterhood of runners. Out-of-staters often seem surprised but all smile and return the wish.
During a week-long stay you start to see the same people every morning. After the second or third day you see them give you the look of recognition and they smile and speak to you even before you get a chance. As much as I complain about people, I admit that I like this early morning camaraderie.
In our favored vacation spot I run south past the pier where there's a long stretch of houses. No hotels or big condo units, so there are much fewer people out on the beach this time of day. In fact, you're just as likely to see a dog as a human down there. There's a lady with a golden retriever and they pass a tennis ball back and forth down the beach. There's a group of three older ladies speed walking with lots of warm clothing on. There's an older, very lean man with a black dog. And my favorite, there's the older lady in the wind suit with headphones dancing her way down the beach. It's some sort of dance exercise, obviously, but she's all smiles and joy as she goes and I think it's great.
This year on vacation I saw most of the usual suspects but as I headed back toward our place I ran past a new character. She was short, Asian and had on a black work out suit. You know, the old kind with long sleeves and zipped all the way up the front. I think there were two white stripes down the arms and legs. She had on white gloves and a white hat with a bright yellow flower on it. She did not appear to have headphones but she also seemed to be doing the dance exercise as she walked. The look on her face brightened as she passed me the first day and we exchanged our "good mornings".
The second day I had just finished my run and was stretching and getting some photos of the sun on the water before heading in when she passed me. We spoke again and her face was all joy and sunshine.
I missed her on the the third day but saw her pass from the balcony. Her timing was just behind mine apparently.
On the fourth day, near the end of my run I spotted her coming my way. She smiled and spoke, her face beaming. It was like her excitement was building with each day. She hesitated as we passed, almost as if she wanted to say something and then I saw her steer toward a random dude on the beach looking for early morning shells. She approached him as I headed inside and she grabbed him and embraced him. He was not a hugger. I recognized the look of surprise on his face. Dude, I was stunned for him. I mean, what the heck? Who was this lady? Why was she hugging this man? By the time I made it to our balcony, G was watching the show. The lady had stopped two teenage girls and hugged them as well. She was eyeing another target and hugging her way down the beach. G and I laughed at the responses of people and wondered what was going on. I couldn't help but wonder, though, why didn't I get a hug? G looked at me dripping a puddle of sweat on the balcony floor and assured me it was because I was stinky and sweaty. I recalled the hesitation and the look the lady gave me as we passed. G was right. I was unhuggable after a run.
Well. I needed to know this lady. I thought about her all morning. Why was she hugging people? What about her made her so pleasant? On day five, I was going to find out. I ran my regular pace but slowed down for the last half mile. I wanted to time it just right.
On my way down the beach I ran past a whole crew of kids from the Garden City Chapel Camp. They were all out to see the sunrise. As I made my way back their crowd was breaking up but I noticed one small circle of people with heads bowed in prayer. And there was my friend in the circle with them praying. I stopped in my tracks. I fiddled around with my running app so as not to look too creepy and as the circle broke up after the "amen", I took a few steps in their direction. Immediately the lady saw me and headed over to me with her arms stretched out. I told her I was sweaty and stinky and she said she didn't care. I got my hug. She said "good morning" and we started talking. She told me her name was Yun and she was from South Korea. She asked if she could pray with me and she did. In Korean! I thought I'd just wait for the "amen" but I wasn't sure what it might sound like in Korean so I had to peek a couple of times. She asked me to pray for peace for her country and I asked if she would take a photo with me.
The photo is terrible because I'm terrible with photos in general, but my specialty in terrible photos is with selfies. But the glare of the early morning sun gives you a fairly honest take of how Yun radiated love and kindness.
I just had another tenth or so of a mile to run to finish up but I did so with a huge grin. I got my hug from the nice lady on the beach. And remember, I don't like hugs. I don't even like people.
This is how the universe works on people: Just before this trip I started reading the book Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. In the book, the author is traveling across the country in a camper intentionally trying to have conversations with everyday people. He meets lots of strangers and initiates pleasant conversations with them and in doing so, he feels a connection with them. I finished the book after I saw Yun the first day. The same day I started the book Everybody Always by Bob Goff. Bob is heavy on initiating relationships with people he doesn't know. He sees this as "becoming love" to people. His book encourages readers to find ways to share love and kindness with everyone you encounter, even the crappy people who can't drive and who say mean things to you. So all this is percolating in my head when I see Yun each morning. Until I'm running the beach hoping to get a hug from her.
There were plenty of people on the beach each morning who laughed at Yun. She was dressed different, she was dancing and waving her arms and she was hugging strangers and praying with them. I don't want to be one of the people laughing at her for being different. I want to be like her.
I don't have any plans to buy a track suit or a hat with a flower on it, but I want to bring love and kindness to people by the truckload. I hope I don't have to hug people to make that happen but if I do, y'all better look out. Yun was affecting people she didn't know in a very positive way. She wasn't spending money to do it and she wasn't traveling across the world to do it. She did it naturally everywhere she went. She left smiles in her wake.
I want to do that too.