The Beach That Was Not

I was supposed to be at the beach today, feet buried in the cool sand and nose buried in the first of several good books. Wyatt and Seth riding the wild waves on their boogie boards and digging for hermit crabs. Miska breathing the air that has, for her entire life, provided balm to her soul. However…

Saturday morning, we loaded the car and began our 6 hour trek to the Atlantic Ocean. Though I’m more of a mountain man, I always look forward to the space and the beauty and the laughter — but the rest of the family has a love affair with the beach. Miska has some mystical connection with the waves and sand. I’d attempt to explain it to you, but I don’t  understand it myself. Her heart awakens; her soul quiets. She hears things out on those sun-drenched shorelines. I’ll have to leave it at that. All summer, we’ve been gearing for this week. You can imagine an 8 and 10 year old’s revved up energy, asking at regular intervals how much further?, how much further?, how much further?

We pulled into the driveway of the beach house and folded out of the vehicle, breathing our first salt air. We grabbed a load of gear and stepped into the house. To my horror, luggage and groceries filled the living room and kitchen. Everywhere, I saw all the things you’d expect to see from a family of happy vacationers just unloading into their beach house for the week, all the things we were just beginning to unload ourselves. No one was there. I suspect they were dipping their feet in the water and getting the lay of things.

We quickly exited and stood in front of our car, shell-shocked. I pulled out my phone and searched quickly for old emails. The short of it is that I made a dad-sized snafu. I had us down for the beach on July 28th. However, we are supposed to be there August 4th.

I don’t exactly remember, but Miska tells me I had to walk away from them for a minute in order to “gather my strength for enduring the weight of the family’s crushing disappointment.” If you know us Colliers, you know we never pass on a good existential crisis. If we see the ship sailing toward tragedy, heartache or impending drama, we don’t attempt to outmaneuver. We point straight ahead and raise the sails.

I walked back to the trio-in-mourning and told them I’d made a big, fat hairy mistake and that we were going to have to drive back to Charlottesville. Miska put on a brave face, but she was entirely deflated. Wyatt, true to form, had a barrage of frenzied questions, searching for some other resolution. Seth looked at me as though I’d just drowned his puppy.

We piled back in the car, and though I risk cliché, I can only describe my emotions this way: I wanted to cry. Of course, many have far greater difficulties than our luxury of having the option of a beach vacation to begin with, screwed up or not. But these days are important to my boys. They’re vital to my wife. We’d saved and skimped and held out through a weary season with the joy of this week in sight. Joy is an essential thing. And as we started re-tracing the road back home, there was little joy in our Honda.

Insult to injury is the $150 I blew for a trip that yielded nothing more than miles on the car and a story my boys will one day tell their own family on their own road trip. A royal, epic fail.

The sky grew dark. A rain storm moved in. Gloom settled around, and inside, our vehicle. The wipers fought against water, and my eyes did too. I felt shame over my forgetfulness. I felt foolish for dropping the ball. I have always hated disappointing people, and now I was knee-deep. I knew we would be okay. Life was not over. I don’t want to over-dramatize. But neither do I want to slough this blunder off for less than it was. We were sad, and I made us sad.

A little ways down the road, night now covering the lightning-illumined sky, Miska put her hand on mine. “Grace,” she said. She squeezed my hand, and I knew the words she had no need to speak: be kind to yourself. Some men have women who would use this occasion as arsenal for many a war to come. My wife is not one of those women. At the moment where she could easily castigate me (and with good cause), she squeezed my hand as we drove together through the dark rain.

The boys have learned Miska’s grace. Wyatt said, “Dad, it’s okay. This way, I get to stay up past midnight, and we get to eat out for dinner.” Seth, who needs to suck the marrow out of any tragedy, took a tad longer; but yesterday he walked up behind me to deliver a massive hug — and at various points throughout the day, he repeated: “Dad, thanks for everything you do for us.”

The good news is we’ve rearranged schedules so we will cue the trip again come Saturday. The better news is that grace came to me from the woman and the two boys who have long been, to my soul, God’s truest sacraments.

40 Replies to “The Beach That Was Not”

  1. I LOVE this story!!!! I love the befuddlement, misery, and grace and I love that you get another week to look forward to a beach vacation!!

  2. This is me. My husband is your Miska. You aren’t alone, either. Your second trip down will be filled with laughter, believe me.
    You reminded me to double-check the date for our trip to the Smokies. Thanks. All’s grace, right?

    1. All’s grace. If your hubster is my Miska, you are blessed indeed. Enjoy those Smokies, with (hopefully) only one round trip.

  3. When you shared that you had made a major dad boo-boo, I thought you were living with regret over having said some horribly damaging thing to your kids. But this? What a wonderful lesson in how we beat ourselves up but how grace is extended to us. This is something that will be a laughter-filled and grace-filled memory for your family forever. Another week of anticipation!

  4. I feel for you! We spend too much time beating ourselves up. Thanks, Winn, for reminding me to receive love and that family is at the heart of it. You’ll have a great time next week!

  5. Right in the gut. That’s where I felt the pain in this story and the laugh at the line about a drowned puppy. I hope that doesn’t make me a twisted person. But the kicker? The conviction I felt in my gut because of her hand in the dark and a life living grace far more than a spoken word.

  6. Ah, grace. Beautiful, mysterious grace. That quiet thing that winds its way into our hearts when we least expect it and least ‘deserve’ it. But that’s what makes it grace, right? I SO relate to that terrible feeling of disappointing others – especially when you have made a mistake. The best part of it is…you still get to go. And I’m guessing it will be all the sweeter the 2nd time around. Followed Cheryl Smith’s FB link here – so glad I did.

  7. I cried reading this. Because, it’s just so amazing–Love and how it gifts grace. Just the other day my husband backed into a guardrail with my new MINI Cooper, my *whimsy* purchase this summer, as he thought he was in first gear and in fact was in reverse (darn BMW for placing the reverse on the left side!). As much as I wanted to cry, and maybe even shout, I chose grace instead. He kept apologizing to me and I thought there wasn’t nothing to say but “it happens” and of course, to tell him I forgive him. I like the little dent and scratches…they’re part of the story of grace. And your own story reminds me of the importance of this grace. It’s life altering. And yes, certainly for purpose.

    1. Amy, you are gracious indeed. That you like the dent and scratches, that seems just right. Grace always comes to the dents and the scratches, doesn’t it?

  8. Winn,

    What a beautiful piece of writing, a lovely picture of grace. Thank you for your words. By now, you’ve surely had your week at the beach, and I hope you had a marvelous time. And now, it’s our pleasure to share this one today with readers at The High Calling.

  9. beware what we feel are mistakes are Gods grace guiding us from uknown troubles time togrther is good first round or secong bless you john

  10. Huge sigh of relief mid sentence when I realized you were early rather than late for your week! Hey, we live near a beach and for your sake I should go there more. Blessings abound!

  11. Winn: Oh I enjoyed this story and felt your pain. I can’t imagine having to go back and face those kids. But the way you wrote this? Makes it so easy for us to identify, and sympathize because we have all done the same things! I think it probably made the next trip even better!

  12. “If we see the ship sailing toward tragedy, heartache or impending drama, we don’t attempt to outmaneuver. We point straight ahead and raise the sails.”–I think you just described our family in a way I never have been able to.

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