I watch them swirl and dive, sidling closer and then scurrying away. Their plaintive cries fill the air around me.
Sea gulls are a constant presence near any body of water, like pigeons are in the city. They are a ubiquitous, slightly annoying feature of life – countless unnamed birds out there chasing garbage.
In my more cynical moments, I sometimes think we are like those birds. Our lives rise and fall without much distinction or impact. We measure our days by our drive for more, never feeling settled or satisfied. We squabble with others to get what we want, resentful when we have to share. And we are constantly evaluating everything we see against the insatiable hunger in our bellies.
You never see a sea gull just chilling, enjoying the sand and water and sun.
I watched the same phenomenon play out with the people on the beach. Humans of many varieties but yet somewhat indistinguishable in a crowd all moving, moving, moving. Shopping for snacks and souvenirs, drinks and drugs.
Almost all of them on their phones. On glorious white sandy beaches, people’s heads weren’t on the horizon, watching sail boats float by. Instead, they were down on their devices.
Chasing dopamine and validation. Chasing security and false comforts. Chasing garbage.
We are not sea gulls.
But like the gulls, we keep reaching for our phones whenever we hear that plaintive cry within us. Something is happening somewhere. Maybe someone noticed what I did. I want to show people I’m happy by taking a selfie and posting it so that more people can notice me and like the photo and then I can get that reward when I check my phone and… more garbage.
We are not gulls. We can set the phones down and entertained by the sound of the waves. We can be delighted by the tickle of the breeze on our bare limbs. We can watch the light change as the sun slowly arcs across the sky, hesitant to move less we miss the shadow’s progress along the sand.
And this practice doesn’t stop when we’re back home. We can try watching a TV show or movie without also compulsively eating garbage from our phones at the same time. We can stop picking at garbage in bed, leaving our phones somewhere else in the house when it’s time to sleep. We can pick up a book when we’re stuck in a waiting room, or perhaps even strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to us.
We’ve mistaken what we find on screens with the connections we need to survive and to thrive, just like the gulls have mistaken garbage for the small fish and plant life they evolved to consume.
It’s time for all of us stop chasing garbage.
All pictures taken by me in Clearwater Beach, FL.