My yearning for unhurried solitude brought me to a strip of sand beneath a canopy of wind blown tress at Emma Woods Beach Park in Ventura, Ca. While lying belly down on the warm sand listening to the rhythm of the rolling waves, I spied a homeless man curled up on a nearby dune. I hoped that he could actually sleep there, nestled in the ice plant. He lifted his head from his knapsack and looked at me with blood- rimmed eyes.
Not wanting to encourage an incident, I collected my tiny yoga pad and headed for a more populated section of the beach. As I strode past the man, I chanced a glance over my shoulder. Indeed he was watching me. I plodded into the wind until I reached a spot close to a couple enraptured with each other’s harmonica playing abilities. The moody morning slipped into a sparkling afternoon as I lazed away the day.
After several carefree hours of pure lollygagging, I stretched and started to head back to my car. I reached into the pocket for my keys and found to my horror they were not there. I backtracked in my mind every step I had taken that day. It would take a team of people combing the dunes with metal detectors to find my keys in the sand. As I hurried back to my car I’d left in a lonely parking lot, I recalled making a quick stop at the restroom before going to the beach. If I left my keys on the sink they could have been discovered. My wallet stashed in the trunk of the car, filled with cash and credit cards would be easy pickings for the devious.
I felt a clutching at the base of my throat. Breathless at the thought of having no car, no belongings, no cell phone and no money, I wondered what a night on the dunes would be like. I ran through a dark tunnel beneath train tracks to the public restroom. I was much relieved to see that my car was still sitting next to it in the deserted parking lot. When I flung the door open to the bathroom and saw my keys were not there, my heart sank to the bottom of my tennies. I hurried to my car, hoping I had simply left the keys in the ignition. I could see from twenty yards out that the doors were locked. I would have to backtrack those many thousands of steps to find my keys. As I contemplated my alternatives, I heard a “Yahoo!”.
In the distance, a man sitting on the picnic table held up my keys.
“Looking for these?” He asked.
My heart sang. Like Julie Andrews, I bounced over to the grizzled man in what felt like cinematic slow motion. His blue jeans were black with oil. He smiled exposing worn down teeth, dark with orange-brown tobacco stains. I realized that he was the vagrant I’d seen resting in the dunes. His dark eyes ringed with red, sparkled with a gentle, sad light. I grabbed his hand and pumped it with all my strength.
“Thank you. Thank you so much!” I said.
“I saw you walkin’ on the beach. Figured you’d have to come back sometime.”
“You could have stolen my car, taken everything I have.” I blurted
“I’m no thief ma’ am.” He said, simply.
“No…No, your not…please let me give you something.” I said. He followed me back to my car. I opened the trunk to find my wallet resting just where I had left it. I handed him a twenty-dollar bill.
“Is this enough?” I asked.
“ Lord ..Thank you Jesus, I sure do need this!” He said.
We shook hands again both of us filled with genuine gratitude for the others existence. I jumped into my car and sped through the parking lot. I waved a hearty goodbye, and he did the same. Tears of relief welled and rolled down my cheeks all the way to Ojai, a charming high desert oasis just north of L.A., where I had homemade ice cream and wondered to myself “Should I have given more?”