The day that I took the boys to the beach, about two weeks ago, was a day I will never forget.
A typical hot, humid, perfect beach day on the island, I managed to get the boys and myself down to the beach, find a perfect place in the sand, set up the SPF 30 tent, and hand out the boys' sand toys to get them started playing. As a walked down to the shore, and watched the boys squealing with delight, running through the edge of the surf with their trucks, I was thrilled about the positive “vacation” energy on the beach. Mostly, I was thrilled with how easily it seemed we could tap that great positive "vacation" energy all year round, living in a resort area amidst happy families on vacation from all over the United States. And all I had to do was walk down to the beach to get that "energy".
And then it happened. Less than 20 minutes later, a woman with a concerned look on her face started walking up to strangers, holding her hand up about 3 foot or so from the sand, and then touching her head and clothing. I knew what those gestures meant, as she worked her way frantically up the beach toward us. A child, her child, her 4 year old son (about the same age as my oldest) was missing. I stood, mouth open, as every person on the beach within seeing distance began to realize what was happening. My knees started to feel weak and I found myself choking up, but I knew there was no way I could let myself break down here. I gathered the boys up as I watched every parent hurriedly call and pull their children out of the water. I imagined what would happen if that child had actually drowned, and then I panicked and started to pack up the boys and all of our things. I had to get them off that beach immediately, should the unthinkable happen.
In less than 10 minutes, we were surrounded by EMS searching for the lost little boy – separated from his mother and family on the beach. By the time the EMS arrived the family was in a full state of despair, crying aloud, dashing up and down the beach, even the little boy's siblings were shouting and crying, "find my brother, find my brother".
In an instant the planet had tilted from the epiphany of happiness and joy on a sunny day at a resort island....from being on top of the world dropped straight down to the depths of black despair....six feet under the earth.
As I gathered up the boys and moved our Radio Flyer wagon, laden with beach gear, out of the way for the emergency vehicles – totaling more than a dozen personnel and 6 vehicles, including a search boat – it was all I could do to stand – to keep my knees from buckling – to not fall to the ground in a heap of wailing and tears. I could not stand the thought of this 4 year old little boy – possibly drowned – right in front of thousands of people on this beach – and directly in front of myself and my children.
I wondered that day – why this moment, why in front of my children, why this mother and her little boy? We had not been to the beach in months – and on our first visit, within 30 minutes – tragedy struck.
The huge lesson for me that day…..is difficult to verbalize yet so simple. We have the ability at any time to tap joy, contentment, & happiness and we do not need a perfectly "sunny, beach vacation day" to do it. If we depend on external circumstances or events in our life to sustain or bring us constant happiness on a "platter", then we will sorely be set up for disappointment, loss, and even tragedy.
Thank God, the little boy was found that day. He had wandered away, down the beach more than a mile - lost. As mother and son were reunited, and there was a collective sigh of relief on that beach, my breath was stolen away. I had just experienced joy and heartache at their height, all in a matter of minutes. As the boys and I left the beach and washed away the sand, I felt humility, thanks, relief, fear, and still yet - contentment - knowing that what was most important was not that we captured that "euphoric vacation feeling" on a regular old Tuesday morning, but that we realized the very Real Brevity of Life limits the number of "euphoric happy moments" we get to have.
For some of us, although we don't realize it, we may only be able to count the moments of joy we have left on one hand. It is imperative and urgent then, that we create joy, steal little moments of happiness, & forge contentment - each second of every day.
*Picture is me and my then 9 year old chocolate Labrador, Owen, playing fetch on the sound near my home. (Owen is still with us, at 14 years young this year.)