For one week a year I exchange the mountains of Virginia for the shores of North Carolina. That’s where I’m sitting right now—sheltered beneath the cover of the back deck, with a family of deer, four sand dunes, and the Atlantic all in front of me. This little island has become more than a vacation spot for my family these past years. It’s been made into a place for us all to take a deep breath from our lives. We set our trifles aside here and concentrate on the big things.
We’re not the only ones, either.
We’ve been here three days now, long enough to meet and greet the neighbors. The couple who each morning stake the plot of sand fifty yards to our right are here to celebrate their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary. Nice folks, both of them. They arrive early, just after the sun has risen, him carrying two chairs and a small umbrella while she tarries behind with a cooler full of sweet tea. There they’ll sit long into the day, staring out over the water. Few words pass between them. At some point, his right hand will stretch out and touch her left. He told me they’ve been coming here for decades, ever since their son and daughter were small. Those were the years before the troubles, he said—back before they lost their son to a motorcycle accident and before the falling out with their daughter. She’s in Oregon now, married twice and divorced once, with grandchildren neither of them have ever seen. It’s just them now, sitting on the beach with the wide ocean in front of them, holding hands.
The family to our left is an active lot. Mother, father, and three young kids. They do everything—swim and boogie board and hunt for shells. Yesterday, they managed to construct a world class sandcastle. The vast majority of these activities are the father and childrens’ to do alone. Mom spends most of her time sitting in the chair beneath a blue and yellow umbrella. She wears a scarf to cover her bald head. The doctors say her cancer is gone now, just as they said it was gone five years ago. They’ve all reached the silent conclusion the disease will be a specter that follows her for the rest of her life. She smiles and laughs often despite of that. Or, perhaps, because of it.
I could go on, tell you about the twenty-something young man in the home nearby, hiding not from a person but from a future he isn’t ready for. He spends his days kite surfing and his evenings sitting in the sand, watching the tides go out. Or I could talk about the widow who brings her husband’s German shepherd out to play in the surf every morning, or the grandpa who hikes up his jeans so he can wade into the water in search of a mystical starfish. There are a thousand stories here because there are a thousand people, and we are all different in who we are and what we do but we are also all the same. For this one week, we are all just a bit closer to our better selves. Not whole, because we’re still broken. Not at peace, because such a thing cannot truly be found this side of heaven.
But close? Yes. Close enough.
And sometimes, that’ll do. That’ll do just fine.