Zen by the Bay
By Mike Ragsdale
In April 2014, the Ragsdale family lost their home during a flood in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. This is the fourth installment in a five-part series of VIE articles about the rebuilding process. The Ragsdales’ new home will be featured in our 2016 Architecture and Design Issue (July/August) and in a series of features on 30A.com.
I once took a personality test in which I was asked to describe myself in a single word—not the word that I aspired to be, but rather the one word that most accurately and honestly captured my very nature. The word presented itself almost without effort. And, while it took me by surprise, I also knew the word contained inescapable truths about me, both good and bad. The word was “restless.”
Restlessness inspires wonderful things like travel, exploration, entrepreneurship, and creativity. Left unchecked, it can also foster discontentment, regret, anxiety, and exhaustion.
Like so many others, I’ve been spiritually drawn to the beach for as long as I can remember. In high school, if I had been asked to describe my ideal future, I would have said something along these lines: “I’d like to live at the beach. Nothing fancy. Just an old house by the water, with a hammock and palm trees. A place where I can spend my days lounging in the sunshine with my friends.”
I don’t remember ever aspiring to accumulate riches, a private executive office, a mansion, or fancy sports cars. Friends. Sunshine. Water. Those were the things I craved in my young adult life. And yet, I somehow lost touch with those simple aspirations along the way. Even though I instinctively knew my happiness was directly influenced by my proximity to a large body of water, it took me years to listen to that nagging voice in my head and navigate my way to the coast. Eventually, subtle and not-so-subtle life choices made that vision a reality. But why did it take me nearly two decades to act on something that’s clearly integral to my happiness?
Truth be told, we moved to the beach to escape. While my wife, Angela, and I have enjoyed a few business successes, we’ve also endured ten times as many failures. Occasionally, someone will say to me, “Man, everything you touch turns to gold!” I certainly understand why it might appear that way. I’m a PR guy after all; by nature, I speak often of my successes and rarely about my embarrassing failures. Those failures are real and many, but as painful as some of them were, they proved to be essential stepping-stones for our family’s migration.
When we first arrived in South Walton, Florida, my brain was almost totally fried. I didn’t have a job. We didn’t know a soul. Prior to the move, my world had been governed by an endless avalanche of e-mails and a BlackBerry that rattled mercilessly across my nightstand at all hours of the night. After shuttering two failed businesses in rapid-fire succession, I no longer had any employees to orchestrate, conference calls to dial into, or e-mails that I cared to read. Moving to the beach was akin to punching the eject button. I totally unplugged—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I canceled my mobile phone plan and stopped checking e-mail. I paced aimlessly around our yard for a couple of months until, finally, my mind decompressed. Only in this newfound state of rest did I unlock a profoundly peaceful existence on the bay—a level of true contentment and happiness that I’d never known before.
Life on the bay is very different from life on the beach. Even though the Gulf of Mexico’s sugary white sands are just five minutes away, bay life seems even less frenetic and more personal. When a giant red sun silently pierces the morning sky over Choctawhatchee Bay, I feel like I’m the only person in the universe—that God has whipped up a special explosion of color just for me. When the dolphins glide past our dock, they roll slightly on their sides to look up at me, just as curious about me as I am about them. At night, the Milky Way stares at itself in the calm bay waters, rippled only by the occasional mullet dancing along the shore.
I would sit on the dock in a rusty old lawn chair for hours at a time, gazing out across the bay. Sometimes I would fish, just to pretend I was doing something. I never wore shoes and only rarely a shirt. Once I saw my neighbor in a local restaurant, and he exclaimed, “Wow! I almost didn’t recognize you in clothes.” It was awkward.
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like I was precisely where I was meant to be—that the remainder of my days should be played out minus the stresses of cubicles, suits, meetings, contract negotiations, leases, and passwords. The gentle flotsam and jetsam of the bay seemed to temper my restless spirit, giving me a sense of proper pace and priority. I had somehow stumbled into a true state of contentment—one I thought I might just enjoy forever.
It’s been two long years since the flood that forced us to leave our life on the bay behind, and I find myself restless again. Every morning, I drink my coffee staring at a laptop instead of a sunrise. I spend more time on conference calls than I do in conversations with friends. I wear shirts. The rust from my old lawn chair has seemingly seeped its way into the crevices of my mind. Our sudden and prolonged withdrawal from the shoreline has weathered my personality and my priorities. I worry about whether I’ll be able to find that same peace again when we return. Will the dolphins even recognize me?
Soon, I promise myself. We’ll be home soon.
— V —
The Ragsdales’ Modern Minimalist bay home will be featured in VIE’s 2016 Architecture and Design issue (July/August). For more information about the project, visit 30A.com/Modern.
P.O. Box 6978
Miramar Beach, Florida 32550
Rolen Studio – Modern Residential
93 Dune Lakes Circle #D-201
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459
Cassidy Lyons Pickens / Lovelace Interiors
Joey LaSalle / Lovelace Interiors