The beaches of Cape San Blas are sunswept and golden. I am on a porch, only 500 feet from the serene Gulf of Mexico. Palmettos and pines moving in gentle gusts of tropical air.
This is the beach where I first had the idea to ask a girl named Jamie to marry me. We vacationed here when I lost my job so that I could lick my wounds and rebuild my life. We came here after my wife’s father died, for similar reasons.
When I was rejected from a major university, sent packing with my hat in hand, we came here. Because there’s something restorative about the cape.
It does something to me. Always has. It’s like stepping into a calmer version of the world. A place free from loud, frightening headlines and cable news.
These are the same picturesque shores where huge square-rigged Spanish ships once anchored themselves. Where men in brass helmets explored for fountains of immortality and shiny rocks.
To the naked eye the cape is a peninsula dividing Saint Joe Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. But when your feet hit this shore, there’s a rich sensation felt in your chest. It’s rejuvenating, and strong enough to make you forget about pandemics for a moment.
It’s the same wondrous feeling you get when standing on the banks of the Chesapeake, or in the Rockies, or in Arches National Park, or at Talladega Superspeedway.
Five hundred years ago the Spanish boats would have been moored within eyeshot from where I’m sitting. The ships would’ve had lots of sails, and huge crews.
Sailors would’ve been climbing the towering foremasts, mainmasts, mizzenmasts, dropping the spanker sails, and the four jib sheets. The white fabric would’ve been blinding in the Floridian sunlight.
Search parties would’ve come ashore in dinghies. Men in bright armor would have leapt out and been met by coastal Native Americans.
“Hi,” the Spanish would have said to the friendly natives. “Now get off our land.”
I don’t know how this peninsula got its name, but the first European who stuck a flag into this dirt obviously believed it was a healing place. Because he called it “San Blas.” Which is the Spanish name for Saint Blaise, who you probably already know is the famous and well-loved Catholic patron saint of Lite Beer.
No. I’m only kidding. The patron saint of beer is actually Saint Arnold. I know this because I once worked with a guy from Belgium who had to cancel two weeks of work to fly home and attend the Feast of Saint Arnold, also known as “Day of Beer.” I’ve never been so mad about covering someone’s shifts.
But Saint Blaise of Sebaste was an exceptional guy. For one thing, he lived during a time of intense religious persecution by the Roman empire. When the world got too dangerous for him, Blaise fled to the mountains for safety.
He could have just laid low and lived under the radar, but that’s not how a typical saint operates. Blaise was a physician. Instead of keeping quiet he set up a doc-in-the-box medical practice in the woods.
The old man worked from the solace of his little cave, helping heal the sick and infirm. People came from miles seeking his touch. Whereupon Blaise would lay hands upon them and say in his sweet physician’s voice, “Does your HMO provider have a copay?”
Of course I am kidding again. The truth is, in many stories Blaise is described as a miracle man, not just a medical guy. But whatever he was, it’s clear that he was special. He took care of hurting people when they needed help. I have known many like Blaise in my life.
But healing was not a good business to specialize in during 316 AD. Saints like him tended to have enemies who were very bad dudes.
When Blaise’s enemies found him, they arrived with teams of hunting dogs, torches, and ropes. He didn’t even resist.
And when they were dragging the old doc off to prison, bound at the wrists, a woman came running out of the woods. She chased Blaise, calling his name, shouting, “Help me! My son is choking!”
Now I want to pause here because—for one thing—you need to yawn. Also, I want you to visualize this scenario:
Blaise of Sebaste is practically hogtied, surrounded by captors, on his way to die a gruesome martyr’s death, and here’s some loud woman running toward him, shouting his name, carrying her toddler, asking for his medical attention.
And what does he do? Does he shrug her off? Does he say, “Look, lady, can’t you see I’m kinda tied up at the moment?”
No. He looks at the limp child whose lips are blue and places his palms upon the boy’s throat. Then he says a few words to the sky. And he does this in the presence of his killers.
The child starts moving. Then the boy coughs up a fishbone and recovers immediately. The woman thanks Blaise. And Blaise is murdered shortly thereafter. How can mankind be so cruel? How, I ask.
But Blaise wasn’t forgotten. Because you cannot kill a man who heals. Not really. And so it was that Blaise’s name spread across oceans, continents, jungles, and tribes. It mingled its way into thousands of cultures. In Brazil he is São Brás. In Croatia he is Sveti Blaž. And in Cornwall, he was called Blazey. In Iceland, he is Blasíus. And in India: Sao Bras.
Here in the Sunshine State it’s just plain old San Blas. To us it’s just a simple word used to describe a sandy patch of Earth. That’s all it is. Just a name.
But it certainly is a healing one.