Anyway, this town has changed. Once upon a time, Destin was a sleepy fishing village. It had one traffic light—two at the most. It wasn’t swallowed by chain restaurants. There were only a few dives, a Shell Station, and the docks on the harbor.

It’s night and I am on a beach in Destin, Florida. I am sitting on the shore, watching the mighty Gulf of Mexico. It never stops moving.

Never.

A few hours ago, I was in a beach bar having dinner with an old friend. He looked good. He’s a family man now, with a good job in Birmingham. Two kids. A nice wife. I haven’t seen him in decades. Not since we were ugly young men, operating nail-guns together.

Long ago, we had things in common. His father left before he was born. Mine died when I was a boy.

Back then, we had the same idea on life. Namely: that life wasn’t fair.

We had fun tonight. There was a band playing top-forty hits. The lead guitarist sang “Brown Eyed Girl” like a donkey with a sinus infection. And people danced.

My friend and his wife ordered fruity drinks and two-stepped until they were sweaty. I said Goodnight Gracie and left early.

On my way home, I stopped here. And the memories came back by the metric ton.

This used to be my beach. I haven’t been here in years. We lived a few streets over. Our family’s old block house was yellow. And tiny. I slept on a pull-out sofa. My sister slept with my mother.

I would sit on the back porch steps when I couldn’t sleep, and look at the night. And I’d wonder things. Important things.

Things like: why does the Pope wear pointy hats? Who invented drive-thru liquor stores? Is it bad luck to be superstitious? And why does it seem like life is out to get me?

Anyway, this town has changed. Once upon a time, Destin was a sleepy fishing village. It had one traffic light—two at the most. It wasn’t swallowed by chain restaurants. There were only a few dives, a Shell Station, and the docks on the harbor.

But progress brought thousands of traffic lights, high-rise condos, and two Walmarts, located ten miles apart.

Two.

The old docks on the harbor were where I first got kissed. It was during the annual Fishing Rodeo. I sat on wood planks. My feet dangling. A girl sat beside me.

I was the most UN-handsome boy in four counties, and she knew it. She felt bad for me. And, since people our age were kissing, she kissed me.

As soon as she planted one on me, I could tell that she wished she hadn’t. I’ve never felt so hideous.

Those docks are gone now. They tore them down to build an amusement park resort. Think: zip lines, jugglers, fire swallowers, and funnel cakes.

Funnel cakes.

But at least this little patch of sand is still mine. It’s the same place where I celebrated the five-year anniversary of my father’s death, a lifetime ago.

I’ll never forget it: it was two in the morning. I was a teenager. I waded into black water until I was chest-deep. I got lost in the stars.

That night, I stared at the Big Nothingness that hovers over the face of the Gulf. And I told the sky I wanted to start over. I wanted to begin again. I wanted to be someone else. Someone who wasn’t ugly. I wanted a different life—one that wasn’t unfair.

I closed my eyes. I held my breath.

I dunked myself.

I leaned backward into the Gulf. When I emerged again, I cried. Not because I felt different, but because I felt nothing.

I thought it would be a baptism of sorts. I’d hoped I’d feel different. But that’s not the way life works. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. There’s no use fighting it.

So I walked home in wet clothes and fell asleep on a cheap sofa bed in a block house.

That was a hundred eons ago. And tonight, I realize that I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, I had to write about it.

People do get to start over. Every day, you get a brand new sunrise. Nobodies become somebodies. Ugly people discover there’s no such thing as ugliness. Fatherless boys with nail-guns become family men who dance with their wives. And the magnificent Gulf of Mexico will never stop moving.

Life isn’t fair. But it’s beautiful.

And so are you.

50 comments

  1. Caroline Chandler - July 2, 2018 5:43 am

    Sean, you are such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing yourself.

    Reply
  2. Billie - July 2, 2018 5:52 am

    Thanks, Sean, for writing! You’re an inspiration to a bunch of folks. But then, you don’t need me to tell you that! I live in Destin. Maybe I’ll see you while you’re here! Thanks for sharing your memories of Destin’s “once-upon-a-time!”

    Reply
  3. Mary Talton - July 2, 2018 5:55 am

    There are no words …your talent and your depth and empathy are just beyond the beyond!!!!! You are awesome! Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Mary Talton - July 2, 2018 5:57 am

    I think we all just love you as our very own personal friend! Goodnight friend, Mary

    Reply
  5. Beth Reed - July 2, 2018 5:57 am

    A good story! No life is not fair but it can be good. It’s often said that every day we have the choice to write our own story be on a clean slate. For me I find comfort in the little things in My morning coffee, hearing my kids coming in and going out to work. The kiss on my cheek and hearing “I love you Mama”.
    What happens during the day is a surprise. Sometimes good and sometimes bad.
    We can look at life and think “What If”….
    I do think those words a lot but I wouldn’t change anything in my life ife because my life has made me who I am today.
    It’s also shaped you into who you are today as well.
    Enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, drive by to see if the old block house is still there, think about the time you spent living there and write down some good memories.
    Sometimes it’s good to re-visit our past but it’s better to live in the present. What memories will you make today? Hug’s to you! Beth Reed

    Reply
  6. Pamela McEachern - July 2, 2018 5:58 am

    I am happy that you have had beauty and amazing love in your life, and I bet it’s only gonna get better. I loved the early beach communities, they were the best and I was very lucky to have spent time there. God Bless and thank you for sharing.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham🌴🐚🦐😎

    Reply
  7. Gloria Bryan - July 2, 2018 6:16 am

    We have been in that area since 1987, started out in Seacrest and now have our home in PCB. Love the never resting water….the angry sea before a hurricane, the sugar white sand that blind you on a clear day…
    You are a very talented person. My best friend and I saw you in Marianna the other night. I was the cackle “about to lay an egg” laugh in the second row!!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings… Thank you for being you

    Reply
  8. Linda Chapman - July 2, 2018 6:44 am

    Amazing. I have been there. And I got to start over! I was in my 50’s when I discovered for the first time ever in my life that I had choices. I did not have to continue the ‘survive and cope’ way of life I had lived since I was 8 years old. I stepped out on faith and changed my life. God saved the happiest years of my life for the last…..and I am so grateful. We all have a story and you telling yours blesses us all. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. C.E. HARBIN - July 2, 2018 8:33 am

    I remember Destin back when you could see the beach from the road, back when it had one traffic light and you could eat Scamp at the Blue Room. The Beach used to belong to everyone and lots of us sat out by the water at night thinking about choices and God and why things were the way they were.
    Thank God we do get to start over every new day.
    Keep writing, Sean, and one day maybe you will post a video of you playing Accordion.

    Reply
  10. Ellen - July 2, 2018 10:40 am

    Goin’ through some stuff the next couple of weeks, and I just wanted to let you know that your daily missives are keeping me hopeful, inspired, and able to get up every morning and face the day and whatever it may bring. Thank you, Sean of the South.

    Reply
  11. Gary - July 2, 2018 11:14 am

    In the early 70’s Destin was “The luckiest fishing village in the world” until vandals spray-painted over one letter. Destin was a sleepy little town at that time. Went back years later….it’s heart-breaking to see what it has become now.
    Keep writing, Sean. You bring back the memories.

    Reply
  12. Marjorie - July 2, 2018 11:23 am

    Beauty comes from within Sean and your rocking with it. Thank you for my second sunrise of the day. I love you.

    Reply
  13. Katy Maddox - July 2, 2018 12:06 pm

    Sean, I met you in Dothan and hugged your neck- I told you that you look like my 4 sons. There is nothing ugly about you😘

    Reply
  14. Penn Wells - July 2, 2018 12:16 pm

    “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

    Reply
  15. Grace - July 2, 2018 12:32 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  16. Sandra Smith - July 2, 2018 12:38 pm

    Took me a lot of years to recognize the possibilities that, waking up to a new day brings, to recognize it for the Blessing it is, and to be Grateful for it.
    To learn, wealth doesn’t necessarily mean, “Happy” but that a star filled sky will kiss your soul, and make you smile, everytime, and that, a grandbaby on the way, is the ULTIMATE HAPPY !!!

    Reply
  17. Terri - July 2, 2018 12:42 pm

    Ah more wise words and truth telling. Thank you. Life is so freakin hard and it’s that way for every single person, regardless. It is our humanity that unites us if we could only get out of our own way and admit it. Keep writing and posting. Thanks for being real.

    Reply
  18. Jack Darnell - July 2, 2018 12:47 pm

    Ah, It is Biloxi I remember on the Gulf as a sleepy Air Force town before the Casinos etc.

    Reply
  19. Melanie - July 2, 2018 12:53 pm

    Thanks for the memories of how things used to be down at the beach. I’m sure many readers will also have those same fond memories of simple cottages with screen doors, endless blinding white sand and beautiful sparks clear and clean gulf water. ❤️

    Reply
  20. Jeanne butler - July 2, 2018 12:54 pm

    Made me cry, made me happy, made me think about the shirt life I have left. Love you Sean

    Reply
  21. Sue Cronkite - July 2, 2018 1:06 pm

    I got caught in a rip tide at Tower Beach and was rescued by two boys on a plastic float. Some of that same stuff went through my mind. Keep writing, Sean. Your words make a difference.

    Reply
  22. Marty from Alabama - July 2, 2018 1:09 pm

    Life isn’t fair, but I’ve found nothing that says it is. I guess we have to make the best of it and that does not mean throwing up your hands waiting for your ticket to a good life. You have to work for it. This life is temporary but another life awaits. Do what the Good LORD has set down for us and at the end life will be perfect.
    Thank you for your memory trips. They often pull up some of my memories. Not on the Gulf of Mexico, but in the rural areas of Alabama – far from luxury but sitting in the lap of abundant love.

    Reply
  23. Johnnie Wood - July 2, 2018 1:44 pm

    When my privileged friends start to bemoan their lives, I say I’m grateful that I never had to run from a flamed out jungle, holding my child, burning flesh dripping from my body, desperate for survival and terrified.

    Reply
  24. Amanda Gibbs - July 2, 2018 1:45 pm

    Good morning Sean, it was so nice to hear what Destin was like back then. My husband is from Ft Walton Beach and his family is from that area close to Destin so I have heard stories from back when. But it’s nice to here from other people. Destin is a big city now and booming with tourist year round. Thanks for all your life stories or where you have been and what you have done. I really enjoyed this one today. Keep up your writings a lot or all of them are amazing. God Bless you.

    Reply
  25. Anne Robinson - July 2, 2018 1:49 pm

    Life isn’t fair. I was feeling sorry for me when I read this., Another friend, gone too soon, peacefully in her sleep, they said. My hubby’s sister, her daughter and four grandkids were in a horrific accident ewith a drunk driver. HIs sister took the brute of the 100 mile an hour impart that flipped her truck and sent them to several different metro area hospital. Prayers are appreciated. Your writings heal a heart, they help a person through a someime miserable day. Our youngest son works at a homeless shelter. He will be home soon and tell me about his night. There is always another story and I will be grateful I am who I am. As my late mother would tell me, “LIfe is hard, pray harder.” Thank you Sean and we all love you back. 🙂

    Reply
    • Connie Havard Ryland - July 2, 2018 2:02 pm

      Bless your heart. I have had 3 members of my family in 3 separate wrecks in the past two weeks, but I’m thanking God right now that none were too awfully bad. Cars can be fixed or replaced, but our loved ones can’t. Prayers up for you and your family.

      Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - July 2, 2018 2:44 pm

      Anne, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time! Praying harder!

      Reply
  26. Connie Havard Ryland - July 2, 2018 2:00 pm

    I needed this today. A series of calamities struck my family in the last couple of weeks and I was at the point of despair. Totally unlike me. But sometimes you just can’t help but wallow in it. Then I read something and I get a little peace in my soul. Thank you for that today.

    Reply
  27. Jon Dragonfly - July 2, 2018 2:17 pm

    “Ole man River, he jest keeps rollin’ along”

    Oscar Hammerstein

    Reply
  28. Amy - July 2, 2018 2:19 pm

    Sean my friend, if you could see (at once) all the people your words have touched you would be shocked and surprised and your eyes might leak a little. I wish I could turn the clock back and hug that little red head and tell him just how wonderful his life would be. He would have the most beautiful wife (inside and out) more friends than he could shake a stick at and the love of a hound. What more on this earth could a man desire?! You’ve done won the lottery son and you seem to realize it and are grateful. That makes me proud.

    Reply
  29. Kelly Ray - July 2, 2018 2:31 pm

    The chorus of a Doug Mays song I love says-“ I’ve been From New York to LA, and I have skied in the Vermont snow, but I’ve never seen anything is beautiful, as moonlight on the Gulf of Mexico”…& I agree…

    Reply
  30. Doyt J. Richardson - July 2, 2018 2:32 pm

    Remembering the same things about old Destin — and campfires on the beach by the Matterhorn — and a beach dune buggy trip from Destin to Panama City — and the rusting hulk of an abandoned buggy on the beach — and Crab Island when it was an island. A different world and much better then; a time before you have to pay for parking and people think of the beach as their private property.

    Reply
  31. Janet Mary Lee - July 2, 2018 2:42 pm

    The sky of big nothing is the sky of everything, isn’t it? Blessed be His Name!

    Reply
  32. Jamie - July 2, 2018 2:57 pm

    Love you Sean, love the way your writing is like thinking, talking, casual, normal, trivial thoughts mixed in with the deep and powerful. (I’m smiling as I type this (o: )

    Reply
  33. Edna B. - July 2, 2018 3:51 pm

    I took a ride one day to the neighborhood where I spent my childhood, and it just wasn’t the same. But I have my memories. Life may be hard, but every morning we wake up is a new day and a new beginning. I love your stories, Sean. They are full of hope and love. You have an awesome day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  34. Loree Arrington - July 2, 2018 4:00 pm

    Thank you. You are beautiful too.

    Reply
  35. Edy - July 2, 2018 4:29 pm

    Beautiful

    Reply
  36. Debbie - July 2, 2018 6:18 pm

    Who looked at these quiet places of such beauty and decided that they needed zip lines, roller coasters, high-rise condos, traffic lights and such?! I mean, really?! Thank you for bringing back to memory the serenity of the beaches.

    Reply
  37. Patricia Schmaltz - July 2, 2018 7:25 pm

    Hello Sean. I live in Fort Walton Beach, so I know your area. I would like to add my thoughts on starting over and happiness. It is my belief that every morning, you, and only you, make the decision on whether to be happy. It is all up to you. You can’t put that on anybody else, or say Shoulda Coulda Woulda. At least that’s what I tell my grandbabies. And I also tell them it if their brother or sister calls them a mean name, what do they care? They know they’re not that mean person. So they should listen to their hearts, and make a decision every morning to wake up and be happy.
    I was kind of surprised you didn’t write about the new $10 parking everywhere rule. All of us locals are staying out of Destin this year. But I’m glad you came to visit!

    Reply
  38. Jack Quanstrum - July 2, 2018 7:29 pm

    🙂

    Reply
  39. Ginger McPherson - July 2, 2018 8:38 pm

    Sean, we’ve had a family summer home in Destin (Crystal Beach) for 60 years. A 70 year old concrete block house a block off the beach. It was passed down from my grandparents, now a fourth generation loves it as much as we do. 50 years ago there was only one grocery store and a GulfStation/laundry mat/gift shop, a putt-putt course and holiday isle was just being built. La Fontaine’s Wharf Restaurant, the harbor and the Crystal Beach Pier were also the big attractions. Things have definitely changed. Traffic is awful and eating out is almost impossible. It is so crowded on the beach, I never even walk down for the sunset. Please go back in October, it’s beautiful then and the Rodeo is still going on. Hang on to those memories of the old Destin and pretend it hasn’t changed.

    Reply
  40. Leslie in NC - July 2, 2018 9:54 pm

    I too, remember the old Destin before all the development, chain restaurants and condos. Not to mention traffic! We lived in Ft. Walton Beach in the early 1960s and my momma worked at Eglin AFB. The panhandle beaches were her favorite place on earth and I have the best memories of her there. We always took the short drive from FWB on 98 to the beach at Destin as it was mainly deserted back then and the water was so crystal clear you could always see the bottom. Speaking of “pitching a fit,” one of my mom’s many sayings was “you gonna pitch a fit and fall right in it?” God I miss her and hope that one day (or night, preferably) I can again sit on the sugary white sand of Destin and visualize her flying down from heaven, skimming across the water with her beloved dolphins. Thank you sweet Sean for reminding me of the good stuff.

    Reply
  41. Lynn Harvey - July 3, 2018 2:31 am

    My parents lived in Destin when there were only 31 permanent residents. Dad had been called back into service at Eglin Air Force Base during the Korean War, and he and mom moved there after they married in 1948. Dad was a commercial fisherman on the Gibson Girl for several years, and then they moved to Memphis. My childhood summer vacations were spent on those glorious white sand dunes and getting sunburned in the emerald water. In 1997 my parents moved to Mexico Beach, outside of Panama City, so I got to enjoy beautiful beaches and water and relative solitude for a few more years.

    Reply
  42. Ellouise Pennington - July 3, 2018 3:28 am

    You have done it again. YaY

    Reply
  43. Stuart - July 3, 2018 4:58 am

    I appreciate your compassion and your thought provoking stories Sean.
    I tell folks that the only “fair” there is in life is the one where you get cotton candy and ride rickety roller coasters. But that’s no reason to be discouraged. Romans 9 tells us that things in this life are not “fair”. But God is in charge. Change the things that you can. The things that you can’t, leave with the Lord in prayer. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done.
    My little 9 yr. old boy offered himself to the church for baptism this past Sunday, and he was baptized with a prayer on his lips and a smile on his face. He was born physically handicapped and had to be carried into the water. “Fairness” doesn’t concern him. Press on brothers and sisters. It gets better (Romans 8:18).

    Reply
    • Dayle - July 4, 2018 1:44 am

      Stuart, your comment moved me to tears. Thank you.

      Reply
  44. Carolyn - July 3, 2018 7:07 am

    So are you Sean inside and out! Happy fourth .

    Reply
  45. Barbara Crippen - July 3, 2018 3:57 pm

    I remember that Destin too……miles of uninhabited white sand beaches……the most beautiful water in the world crossing the bridge into Destin from Alabama. Getting sunburned & sitting not quite in agony on scratchy movie seats.
    My aunt & uncle owned a small “grocery store” & lived in a tiny cinder block apartment in the back. We’d visit for a week or two & three of us would sleep on that pull out sofa bed.
    Priceless memories.

    Reply
  46. Dayle - July 4, 2018 1:43 am

    I was drawn in by this post because it evoked memories of 1979, when my identical twin sister and I took the sleepy fishing village of Destin by storm, cruising in my white corvette with T-tops off, of course. It was the days of big hair and tiny waists. Mercy me. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which was the only “tall” hotel on the beach at that time, which is hard to believe if you visit now. Even though it’s overrun with commercialism, I still love Destin.

    Reply
  47. Donna Johns - July 4, 2018 3:10 am

    Just wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful!!

    Reply

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