September 08, 2021


Family vacations for the Saads were nothing fancy. They usually involved a station wagon, long drives, average hotels, tap water (no soda) at the restaurants, and fights with brothers as a way to pass time. Add the occasional embarrassing burst of belly dancing by my endlessly joyful mother, and you have the beginnings of an indie coming-of-age film for a young Middle Eastern boy.

One of my favorite trips was when we left the land-locked Midwest for the sunny coasts of Florida. I was young, but my memory of arriving in St. Augustine is vivid. I didn't care much about the town, or the condo we rented, or really anything else. I only cared about the ocean. I’d never seen it in real life, only on TV. I could not wait to actually experience it.

The place we rented was a small condo near the water. Once we parked the car, I flung open the door of our wood-paneled station wagon, and sprinted to the beach as fast as my chubby legs could carry me. I remember the first feeling of running on sand — the ground moving this way and that as I stumbled to continue my pace. I remember the vast expanse of blues and whites colliding in the distance. The sounds of water crashing while birds squawked and swooped. The salty taste of the crisp air. It was an orchestra for the senses.

Once I stopped at the water’s edge and let my feet sink into the wet sand, I noticed odd shaped stone-like objects on the ground. Were they shards of glass? Or pieces of debris? Or lost jewelry? I collected as many as my arms could carry.

I eventually made my way back to the car where my older brother was begrudgingly shouldering the responsibility of unpacking the car. I asked my mom about the beautiful objects littered across the beach, “Do we need to return these to someone?”

She smiled and simply said in her motherly Egyptian tone, “No no. They are sea shells. They are gifts from the ocean.”

The ocean gives gifts?! I was blown away.

Every morning during that vacation, my mom and I would get up early and walk along the beach to look for the most beautiful shells. She wouldn’t let me keep every one I liked, so I had to be careful to choose just the right ones. Still, by the end of those few days, I had more shells in my bag than I had clothes. I wanted to take the ocean, and all its gifts, with me. I still have some of those shells today.

I miss the ocean. And when I do get to visit, I’m perfectly content simply noticing the shells and letting them be.

But I can’t help but think about how many gifts we are given throughout our days. Maybe your eyes have grown accustomed to seeing them — the care of a loved one, the hard work of a teammate, the beauty of a landscape.

There was something in your life that was amazing when you first saw it. Something that sparked wonder. Can you find it again? And again? And can you help your students or your teams find it too?

When you do, it might change how you’re seeing everything else.

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