There's a piece of my heart that belongs to a sandy seashore along the Florida Panhandle. It's nothing overtly special, this plot of beach just west of Panama City and east of Destin. Yes, it's sugary white. Yes, the water is an emerald shade only captured by the finest of semi precious stones. But, it's not infamous, like Miami's South Beach, or a playground for the rich and famous, like the French Riviera. In fact, there are many who spitefully claim this slice of heaven is 'The Redneck Riviera.'
To me, labels do not matter. This sacred spot, where the sea meets the sand, is where I found myself. My true self. The one who was battered and bruised after years of slaving in a professional fog, at a loss of what to do and where to go next. It's the shoreline I paced many early mornings with my beloved father at my side discussing the future and what great things I would write, what fine projects I would complete.
It's been more than five years since my dearest Daddy passed on, and this slice of shoreline is all I have left - besides memories of an incredibly centered man in a floppy straw hat with a quick, easy smile.
My sacred space by the sea had supposedly be 'spared' thus far of the wrath of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Despite the excessively positive news updates cajoling visitors to pristine beaches, I prepared myself for the worst when I visited my mom last week.
At first, all seemed normal. Visitors dotted the beach with colorful umbrellas, sailed freely along the shoreline and even took to the crystal clear sky by parasail. But something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Every few minutes a helicopter would buzz the beach, or a jeep took to the sand, rushing this way and that. Then there were the men in mirrored sunglasses donning blue plastic gloves and picking up tiny objects off the shoreline, carefully placing them in ziploc baggies. But it was the couple of cammo clad military men that made me shiver, though. It felt like a war zone, plain and simple.
My son wouldn't swim. Not one time. He stood on the shore with his hands on his hips surveying the damage. What damage? There were no balls of oil. No dead sealife to prove what we've done to the Gulf. It was eerily devoid of damage.
In some ways it was worse, the not knowing what's out there. The not knowing when we will pay the price here in the Panhandle for our sins to Mother Nature.
My mom's been waiting since April for heaven to fall. For the Gulf she so loves to be swallowed up by darkness. And she'll wait some more. We know what's ahead as we watch the black muck run its course via satellite tv.
My beloved Gulf will continue to suffer, but I will return to her sacred shores. For she has saved me more than once in my life and it will be my turn to do for her the same.