I am sitting on the beach, tapping on a laptop, people-watching, developing an awesome sunburn.

As a kid, I practically lived at the beach. I always sported sunburns in the summers, and my red hair always leaned more toward strawberry blond.

But then, suddenly, there was a time in my adult life when I quit visiting the beach altogether. In fact, I went years without placing a sole on this sand.

The irony, of course, is that I live a mile from the shore. Not far from my front steps are the whitest sands in the U.S., and the most ethereal Gulf waters known to man. And yet, I rarely visit.

What does that say about me?

I’ll tell you what. It says that I have been taking this beach for granted. I’m not sure how I started doing that, but I did.

Maybe it all started after my first beach job as a teenager. I spent upwards of nine hours each day on the blinding hot sand, setting up awkward beach-service chairs, sounding a lifeguard whistle at rowdy teenagers, and hollering at little kids who yelled “Shark!” just for the heck of it.

“We don’t have sharks here,” was the official stance we lifeguards were instructed to take with the tourists.

After that, I went through a period when something simply changed inside me. I quit visiting our shores very often and found myself forgetting about our simple beauty. In other words, I ignored what was before me. Which is classic me.

Until recently.

Something has been happening inside me. Something interesting. I have been spending more time on the beach lately. Usually, I visit in the mornings, reading a book, trying to absorb the solitude.

I don’t know what’s come over me. I don’t know what brought this change.

Maybe I’m sitting here by this water because I’m getting older, and I’m realizing I don’t have that many beach days left. Or maybe it’s because my world has changed.

I won’t lie. These last few years have been challenging for my wife and me. My mother-in-law was ill, and we watched her die a little more each day. My wife and I were at her bedside to help her into the next world, and when she was finally gone, our universe lost its gravitational center.

Now that phase of life is over, and it’s back to real life again. Except, it’s not that easy.

Nobody tells you how hard it is to find the steady rhythm of normal life after you’ve lost your pace. It’s not easy to simply return to living the way you used to. In fact, it’s almost impossible. Because you are not the same person you used to be.

Nevertheless, here I am, on this sand.

Parked beside me this morning is an elderly German couple beneath a cheap umbrella. They are visiting from Ramstein. The old Europeans wear bathing suits that resemble No. 3 dental floss, and I can see their vital organs. But you have to hand it to them, wearing such bold Euro fashions at their ages takes guts.

They tell me that their son died when he was thirty-six from suicide. Their son never saw the famed beaches of West Florida, although he always wanted to see them. It was his dream.

So after his funeral, his parents started making an annual vacation out of visiting this area. They have been visiting this place every year on his birthday.

He would have been sixty-four this year.

On the beach, I also meet a young man who is off work from working the night shift at a convenience store. He is sitting on the shore, trying to figure out how to operate a high-tech drone—which is essentially a flying camera with propellers that are capable of decapitating a musk ox.

He uses an iPad for a remote control. He sends the tiny drone over the Gulf water, staring at his screen. Then, he sidles next to me and says, “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”

“Sure,” I say.

He shows me and the Germans the iPad. I am looking at the azure Gulf water on the screen, and I see a large dark shape several hundred yards out from shore, floating beneath the surface. It looks like a killer whale, or maybe a submarine.

“What is that shape?” I ask.

He points to a medial fin. “Shark.”

How do you like that?

Anyway, after spending a few hours on the beaches of my youth, I’m starting to get a sense of what normal life looks like again. I think I’m even beginning to see things a little more clearly.

All my life, I thought that my life was a journey. But that’s just an old cliché. And I think the cliché is wrong. They say life is an uphill grind, a grueling foot race, a battle, a contest. You fight and fight, and then one day, boom, you’re just done fighting. And then you die.

But to me, this life is not an expedition or a Napoleonic conquest. Life is a Rembrandt, a Monet, a Thomas Hart Benton painting. This life is a poem. A work of art meant to be admired, questioned, wept over, enjoyed, framed, and above all, taken care of. Your life is meant to be loved. Even the bad parts. Your life is supposed to be fun. You are supposed to be having fun. And so am I.

Which is, of course, why people come to the beach.


  1. Suellen - October 14, 2021 7:01 am

    The ocean is primordial. It may be fun to go to the beach but there’s such a sense of solace and calm to watch the waves going in and out. They were there before we existed and they’ll be there when we’ve pushed off out of this world. I could sit there all day. My husband on the other hand is like ok there it is let’s go. I’m glad you’re going to the beach again. It’s a great place to people watch too.

  2. John - October 14, 2021 8:50 am

    Grief takes its toll. And it takes its time. My wife of 42 years passed about 2 years ago, and I’m finally beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin again.
    I like your attitude: you’re right, your life is a masterpiece to be taken care of.
    Peace, brother.

  3. Kay Williams - October 14, 2021 9:08 am

    I like to wave to the beach. It always ‘waves’ back.

  4. Dean - October 14, 2021 9:19 am


  5. Martha - October 14, 2021 9:24 am

    I live on an island. As a child I was not allowed at the beach. My father was overprotective. As I grew older I sometimes went to the ocean or the river. Now I am much older and walk the 1.3 miles most days to watch the sun rise. I thank God for that.

  6. Pondcrane - October 14, 2021 11:02 am

    Right on time! Thank-you. I Love You.

  7. Dorothy Basinger - October 14, 2021 11:33 am

    Just beautiful reflections of our beautiful white beaches. The joys and dangers of Mother Nature’s wonders is beyond our comprehension and that is why we feel such peace as we take it all in as we sit and relax staring aimlessly into the abyss.
    I thank God for getting to live here.

  8. Helen Muir - October 14, 2021 11:48 am

    Beautifully stated. I agree!

  9. Al Cato - October 14, 2021 12:05 pm

    Loved to be at the Gulf in the fall and winter months. The sunrises and sunsets are just spectacular! God’s palette presents us with colors and patterns that leave me in awe. Even on some cloudy or stormy days, His majesty is presented in the mixture of clouds and sunlight peeking thru. I’ve taken lots of photos and even had some framed and placed where I am reminded of the many years of moments spent in this special place.

  10. Catherine A Kiser - October 14, 2021 12:10 pm

    This is one of my favorites Sean. I also grew up at the beach and am grateful that I learned to find peace and inspiration in nature. I carry that everywhere. I especially love the way you ended this by comparing life to a work of art rather than a race or journey. What a wonderful way to look at this time we have on earth. Thank you.

  11. Pete Tucker - October 14, 2021 12:13 pm

    Excellent! Thanks.

  12. Ann - October 14, 2021 12:33 pm

    Wow, Sean, you hit every reason to go to the beach…..once “ taking it for granted” leads to renewed appreciation! Thank you…I think I needed this.

  13. Paul McCutchen - October 14, 2021 1:22 pm

    I miss the beach. My wife and I traveled to the beach several times a year but the pandemic has got us cautious. Should get back to the rhythm of vacationing again soon.

  14. Pat Bice - October 14, 2021 1:28 pm

    You nailed it with this one!! We have to grasp the moment and appreciate the fact that we are alive no matter our heartache over those who have gone before us!!!

  15. Ann - October 14, 2021 1:35 pm

    I read to my husband of 52 years and exclaimed “IT’S A SIGN! I’m supposed to be at the beach!!!”

  16. Wanda - October 14, 2021 1:36 pm

    Love this one.

  17. Kathy - October 14, 2021 1:56 pm

    I like your comparing a life to a work of art. That’s what we’re creating.

  18. AlaRedClayGirl - October 14, 2021 2:02 pm

    There’s no better place than a beach to contemplate life, and the beaches on the Gulf are the very best. I’ve been to beaches on the Atlantic coast & Hawaii, yet they don’t compare to the Gulf beaches. Wish I was there under an umbrella right now.

  19. Amy - October 14, 2021 2:06 pm

    I needed this today, Thank you!

  20. Sally Jo - October 14, 2021 2:22 pm

    Good one! Thank you.
    Moved away from Niceville and the greatest beaches in the world 12 years ago. Still miss it, especially this time of year.

  21. Bronne - October 14, 2021 3:18 pm

    All water fascinates me. (Although I only have a pool in my yard) Creeks, lakes, waterfalls and the fabulous Gulf of Mexico! It is constantly changing. Gentle enough for a baby bath, strong enough to wipe out a village. The mystery and treasures it holds brings us back to it… time after time, year after year. I can not imagine tiring of it, although that could be because I live in Ohio…
    But what I thought most about in this post is you Sean. You and your red headed completion… I imagine you’ll get many comments on this – but Please, get a skin cancer screening regularly! None of your ardent followers want anything to happen to you!
    Enjoy that beach, what a blessing to visit it daily. Best mental help therapy around.

  22. Vivian - October 14, 2021 3:24 pm

    And just like Rembrandt, Monet and Benton and almost every other artist/writer/creator of any kind like you, me and others since time began, our “works” are never really finished. I look at my own work and think, “That (looks or sounds) good! Wish I’d done something different there.” We may think, “Not what I originally had in mind, but it’s pretty good as it is!” Then someone else may look at it and it appeals to their soul. We may not know how deeply, but it happens and we realize that we weren’t doing that work only for ourselves after all.

  23. Shelton A. - October 14, 2021 3:47 pm

    Glad you’ve rediscovered the beach. The sound of the waves alone is special. Don’t forget to share some time with Jamie and the dogs (unless they’ll eat Euro-style beach-wear). God bless.

  24. Christina - October 14, 2021 4:59 pm

    These healing places beckon us back to linger and soak up the goodness they have to offer. I like your new metaphor for life too.

  25. Linda Moon - October 14, 2021 8:53 pm

    Reading and people-watching while on a beach are so very good for the soul. Love, art, and beauty….along with some perplexing times have all been LIFE for me. Mountains bring the best of it to me. So, Sean… keep having yourself some fun there at your close-by beach while I’m viewing mountains just outside my windows.

  26. MAM - October 14, 2021 10:37 pm

    I grew up near a Gulf of Mexico beach, but somehow mountains appeal to me more. Why, I don’t know, but now that I live near mountains, I do miss the beach and enjoy the once-in-a-while visit. I do enjoy any moving water, so waves are neat, too. At my age, I’m privileged to live where I want to and travel where I want to.

  27. Richard - October 14, 2021 11:21 pm

    I read your column each day with trepidation; Will this be yet another boring one about angels? Will they never end but instead curse us with more life-up-in-the-sky testimonials? Thank you for a secular column, I knew you had it in you………

  28. Linda - October 15, 2021 2:44 am

    Well said Sean.

  29. Peggy ALEXANDER - October 15, 2021 2:58 am

    I pray none of you non believers in angels never need one. They ARE real

  30. Peggy ALEXANDER - October 15, 2021 3:02 am

    I hope none of you none believers in angels ever need one.

  31. Peggy ALEXANDER - October 15, 2021 3:05 am

    I hope none of you non believers in angels ever need one.

  32. beckykuiper - October 15, 2021 12:54 pm

    Thank you for reminding us that we are supposed to be having fun.

  33. Karen Snyder - October 16, 2021 12:35 am

    Love this, particularly your description of what our lives are meant to be. Thanks. ❤️

  34. Keloth Anne - October 16, 2021 2:37 pm

    Oh Sean, vitamin sea is certainly good for the soul!! So glad you and the beach are becoming friends again. You and Jamie and those fur babies just ENJOY every chance you can!! And keep these enjoyable writings coming—you are appreciated and loved ♥️

  35. L G ARNOLD - October 16, 2021 3:24 pm

    The beach is my sanity. Even in the winter, I can go to the beach, sit on a dune and just ….. breathe? Even though I’ve never lived near a saltwater beach, it’s like that endless expanse of movement and peace calm every aspect of my thoughts, my heart …. even my life. It’s my peace in this troubled world. And with all the pandemic and now this economy, I haven’t been to the beach in over 2 years. I need the beach. Soon. Somehow.

  36. Sharon Highsmith - October 17, 2021 11:50 am

    Both my parents died within 6 mo of each other in 2015 and 2016. They were hard workers and saved their money. They loved the beach up until my brother died with lung cancer after a 4 mo diagnosis. After settling their estate I went in search of a beach lot and built a house at Indian Pass in Aug of 2018–2 months before Michael came through. God blessed me with only outside damage to that house that took a major hit—every single picture was still on the wall and not the first bit of water damage inside the house. I drive 7 hrs to this beach house at least one week a month to just breath—-walk, breath, read, sleep with the doors open and renew my strength. I love the fact that you are from this area! Love reading your daily stories. Keep it up!!

  37. franfluker - October 19, 2021 1:08 am

    want to do something interesting? Look up the post offices in FL that still have art done by WPA workers. Some maybe in museums or govt buildings, but I bet you can find some neat stuff from the Roosevelt Adminstration. There are about forty-odd still in GA left from that era, many paintings still in actively used post office buildings in small towns.

  38. Gretchen - October 21, 2021 5:18 am

    One of your best!!!


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