I’m writing mid-flight, on my way back from the longest vacation of my life — five weeks in Southwest Florida. After so long away, it feels more like a move than merely returning from someplace I’d been visiting.
Late last night, I drove to the beach for one last walk.
The main street downtown was still aglow, lit up like Christmas. I’d strolled the strip often during my stay, this year and during the five years of previous visits.
I’d eaten at that Persian restaurant on the right.
I’d sat awhile on a bench in that tiny garden park on the left.
I’d played gin rummy and sipped iced chai and written blog posts in that little coffee shop.
People sat at outdoor tables, talking and laughing. Music greeted me from the open doors of a warmly lit restaurant.
Just a few days ago, it had all felt very much like my street — like a place and people who knew me well. Last night as I drove, however, it felt … different. A bit foreign. Like I was a ghost passing among the living, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.
A few zigs and zags and I’d arrived at my destination. I kicked my sandals off into the car. I’d walk the shore barefoot, as ever. The colorful ceramic turtle mosaics set into the cement pavilion that opened onto the pier seemed somehow to be swimming … away.
Caribbean music pulsed from the close side of the pier, a group of young Haitian boys having an impromptu dance party. They parted as I approached, smiling and turning toward me with hands overhead and hips swaying, a wordless invitation to join them if I liked. I returned the smile and dance-stepped my way over to the stairway that let down onto the beach, the small crowd closing in my wake.
Above, in the sky, silent lightning played its own complex rhythms, reflecting off the waves beneath. The water was warmer than ever, tumbling over and around my feet, then pulling the sand out from under them in retreat.
A perfect night.
I walked with the knowledge that, whether I stayed ten minutes or two hours, there would come the time when at last I reluctantly pulled my feet from the surf, when I took those last few precious steps through the wet sand onto dry and turned my back to the ocean.
I thanked the nearing thunder and striking lighting for their mercy in making the decision for me. When I’d reached the pier once more, I stood silent beneath for one final lingering few seconds, then whispered my goodbyes.
Earlier that afternoon, my sister had sent me a message, asking if I were depressed, now that my tropical getaway was coming to an end. It made sense to ask, I suppose. And one might even take from my above account about walking the beach that this was, in fact, the case.
I can only assure you, despite how it may seem, that I was far from depressed.
I was, however, sad.
de·pressed (adj.) — (of a person) in a state of general unhappiness or despondency
de·spond·ent (adj.) — in low spirits from loss of hope or courage
You see, the feelings I was experiencing were not “general”; on the contrary, they were quite specific. I was remembering, in glorious and vivid detail, the many wonderful moments I’d experienced, the friends I’d made, the buzz and whir of the cicadas — even the sticky tree frogs that had greeted me each morning in the windows of the breakfast nook.
What’s more, I was not feeling the least bit hopeless or lacking in courage.
I was not dreading going back.
Truth is, I love my life. New England autumns are unrivaled. My home is clean and peaceful, a haven I’ve intentionally and successfully created to feel like a vacation home on Cape Cod or a flat in Paris. I enjoy the work I do and feel a real sense of purpose in it. And people I love and care about were waiting to welcome me back.
I was happy — even as I was sad. Happy-sad. A strange but harmonious dance, much like the lightning overhead as I headed back up the wooden stairs of the pier and across the pavilion to my car, glad I’d had the foresight to tuck those few folded lengths of tissue into my front pocket.
As perfect a night as any before it.
I was simply living as fully in the present as best I knew how, allowing myself to feel the full range of emotions that came with turning the final pages of an extraordinary adventure — before beginning the next one.