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.


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 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.


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 with zip lines, jugglers, fire swallowers, and 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 yellow 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.


  1. Martha Black - July 16, 2019 6:35 am

    Life’s a dance, we learn as we go
    Sometimes we lead sometimes we follow
    Dont worry about what you don’t know
    Life’s a dance we learn as we go………..

    Stepping forward, stepping back, is not so much a progression as just a matter of rhythm to keep you sure footed and balanced. Not all steps in the dance of life are made head on, somethings have to be side stepped or leaped over to deter a collision or falling. To be fleet of foot & nimble of step, you might say…….

    Observe the flat foot dance……….. Sounds straight forward, simple and plain by name
    Oh, but it’s not……… simple

    It starts out in a steady rhythm of time
    As the music progresses so does the clime
    The steps get livelier & more animated
    There are even some jumps once you become acclimated
    The kicks become more spectacular
    The twists more turning
    But if it becomes too much & you need a respite
    You can step back into a move that looks like a gentle rocking chair on the porch at night
    Then the spirit revives and the pace picks up for the finish
    And they spin one leg behind in a glorious florish
    It’s a dance of wild abandon & lively spirit, not for the weak of heart
    Building to a full on finish from a cranking start

    ~m3b 7-16-19

  2. sharon - July 16, 2019 7:19 am

    Thank you Sean. I needed that this morning.

  3. Jean - July 16, 2019 10:20 am

    I was always the fat ugly kid. I can relate and I can say that life always changes you one way or another. Thank you for today and you are beautiful…outside and inside!

  4. Cynthia Harmon - July 16, 2019 10:55 am

    I was thinking earlier this about how 26 yrs ago I was left with 3 little girls under 6. I made $500 a month but somehow didn’t qualify for food stamps. I just kept praying and God provided. It’s turned out pretty good.

  5. Wayne Vaughan - July 16, 2019 10:55 am

    I remember when Destin was really small and the years I spent in Niceville, going to Plew Elementary, Ruckel Jr. High, and Niceville High School. I remember chasing down those black and white striped lizards on the beach in Destin in and around the sand dunes. It took hours to catch one , but I never gave up. I usually released them, realizing they wouldn’t live if I took them home. I remember finding shells on the beach back in the 60’s and kissing a girl for the first time who was attending Bruner Jr High, one grade below me. I will never forget the salt air and the waves on the beach at night when you were allowed to be on the beach, and digging in the sand near the water line to see the lights in the sand before the next wave came up on shore, Great memories of times gone by in a very special place in this world. Wayne

  6. Steve Ledbetter - July 16, 2019 11:04 am

    “And so are you” Sean. It seems you are too hard on your self. Is it merely self-deprecating humor? Do you really feel this way? My Dad and Sister drove to see you a couple months ago. I wish I had gone. They told me I needed to subscribe. Now I start my day with you. You’re far from ugly, I’ve seen their photos. You waken thoughts and emotions. Beautiful thoughts and emotions. I find myself commenting often. I hope you read these comments. They are a reflection of yourself. Like a mirror. And you are beautiful.

  7. Bobbie - July 16, 2019 11:22 am

    Those last lines always get me! You are becoming day by day to be the person God created you to be. I think its best to experience the hard parts of life early, then when things get better, you finally see that life is good, and all we went thru those early years formed us and taught us the lessons we needed to know for later life. I’ve never forgotten the line from a movie about C S Lewis…”Life is a brutal teacher, but you learn, my God how you learn!”
    Thanks for being a part of my day Sean Dietrich. Such a blessing to so many.

  8. Lynn Reese - July 16, 2019 12:08 pm


  9. D B - July 16, 2019 12:30 pm

    You gave me goosebumps this morning Sean. Your writings are both heartfelt and thought provoking. YOU are beautiful and you have a beautiful gift. Thank you for sharing that gift with us.

  10. Emma Oberdieck - July 16, 2019 12:42 pm

    My mom just suggested I subscribe. Two posts in, I know your columns will help me take the time I forget I need to stop and reflect…breathe. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Jan - July 16, 2019 12:49 pm

    Beautiful thoughts … beautiful words from a beautiful person. Enjoying your new book!

  12. Susan McCall - July 16, 2019 1:01 pm

    Oh but Sean, there IS a do-over in Jesus Christ! I hope you know Him!

  13. Patricia A Schmaltz - July 16, 2019 1:02 pm

    Even if I didn’t live here on the panhandle, I would still enjoy reading your thoughts. Keep it up! I think you are great and a lovely start to my every day. HUGS!

  14. Georgia Grand - July 16, 2019 1:06 pm

    Was in Destin this Sunday evening after about 25 yr absence (do not have words to Express My dismay ) ?
    We all have issues in our past !!! To Quote Max Lucado “Anxious for Nothing” that’s the reason Rear view mirrors are smaller than Windshields
    MetYou Sat evening Fairhope loved it ….You Are Beautiful now!! Georgia Grand?

  15. Bobby - July 16, 2019 1:50 pm

    Amen brother!

  16. Ann Collier - July 16, 2019 1:52 pm

    One of the best!

  17. Pat - July 16, 2019 2:56 pm

    There is always hope…sometimes hard to see and sometimes things don’t work out the way we “hoped” it would, but one day, you will understand!

  18. Linda Moon - July 16, 2019 4:06 pm

    “Brown-Eyed Girl”, even sung by an alleged animal, can’t be all bad….maybe ruined for a little while, but it’s still “Brown-Eyed Girl”! I’m glad you bid Gracie good night, though, and maybe left early to play some Van Morrison. In the day before cell phones, someone who wouldn’t want her name mentioned here stayed at Destin Beach too long. I (her mother) suspected she was off somewhere kissing a boy. (I, her mother…did I just give her identity away??) I was right, and she returned safe and sound. STARS OF ALABAMA arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Now that’s a beautiful thing!!

  19. Lee - July 16, 2019 4:09 pm

    Your words sooth me. I lived in Fort Walton Beach in the late 1970’s and vividly remember the sleepy beach village as you describe it. Progress sometimes isn’t a good thing, but I sure wish I bought that property offered to me in 1979.

  20. Phyllis F Stallings - July 16, 2019 4:48 pm

    I would like to thank you for your daily short stories. It always leaves me lifted up. You said we were all beautiful. I have never felt beautiful but it’s nice to know someone thinks so.

  21. Jennifer Sienes - July 16, 2019 5:44 pm

    Thank you for once again sharing your heart. It brought back memories of my own–and yes, life is beautiful and we do get a brand new start. Thank God!

  22. Janet Mary Lee - July 16, 2019 5:59 pm

    I wish I had known some of these beaches back in the day. We do try to find the least crowded and most quiet places there are. And it is still beautiful!! You have really come into your own, and then some!! And it brings me joy!! I so identify with that child in you. Mine is still there, but I try to recognise it for what it is..and work around it. I will never touch as many people as you do,( including me!). But well..I can start with one, and that is okay. You make us proud!! The best is knowing God does answer those prayers. In different ways. The trick is seeing it, and being thankful for it!! ((hug!!)) You are!!

  23. P D Nix - July 16, 2019 6:33 pm

    so very true

  24. Susanne Wadsworth - July 16, 2019 7:07 pm

    I love to read your essays–always positive and uplifting. You make my days!

  25. Connie Havard Ryland - July 16, 2019 11:55 pm

    I wake up every morning reading your column. Blog. Whatever it’s called these days. You start my day off with a laugh or a tear or just a quiet moment of reflection, but it’s always a beautiful start to my morning. I hope you know how much your words mean to people. Love and hugs.

  26. Joe Patterson - July 17, 2019 3:25 am

    And so are you thanks again

  27. That's jack - July 18, 2019 3:17 am

    All IMMA say is AMEN to old Joe P up there. Nite from Pennsylvania…
    Sherry & jack

  28. Caleb Halstead - August 13, 2019 2:48 pm

    Boy, did you ever strike a nerve today, Sean! Destin, Florida! I spent what may have been the happiest summer of my life in Destin, FL. There have been too many summers now for me to remember each of them specifically, but my summer in Destin will always stand out in my memories. It was the summer between high school and my enrolling at the University of Alabama in the fall.

    One of my sisters had rented a house in Destin to spend the summer there with her husband and two sons. I was invited to tag along The cottage was not directly on the beach, but sat near the east end of that little inlet where the fishing boats line up on the western end. The sandy spit across the inlet (between the house and the Gulf) was totally barren. Sea birds used it as a sandy nesting place. With all the high-rises sitting on that little spit of land now, I’m concerned that it might sink or tip over. You know how those things can happen.

    The little house was perfect. No air conditioning, but with the breeze off the Gulf a/c wasn’t needed. A long flight of steps led from the house down to the water where they kept their little runabout boat. It was a sixteen-foot boat with a gigantic 50 hp outboard hanging off the stern. I had a bedroom to myself, but chests of drawers and closets were in short supply. I had been given a Samsonite “two-suiter” suitcase for graduation. It opened like a clam shell and would lie flat when opened. I kept all my clothes (mostly Bermuda shorts and t-shirts) in my suitcase with it open and shoved under the bed. As there were only a couple of inches between the bottom of the bed and the open suitcase, I’ll never understand exactly how he accomplished it, but my sister’s cat (one of numerous cats over the years named “Kitty Tom”) managed to get under the bed and used my suitcase (and my clothes) as his personal litter box.

    I don’t know exactly how many days that went on until one day I walked in the room and thought, “What is that SMELL?!?!” I thought one of the boys had put a dead crab under my bed as a joke. Neither the suitcase nor my clothes were ever the same.

    I managed to get a job of sorts at one of the little concrete block, flat-topped motels that dotted the side of the road at that time. This one was named “Motel Capri by the Sea.” Great little place. Clean and well-kept. I remember the owners’ names, but I won’t mention them for fear of embarrassing their children or grandchildren. My position was pretty much desk clerk, maintenance man, bellhop, guest car washer, maid and sometime lifeguard. The motel had a really nice neon sign on the edge of the highway except for the fact that it was very temperamental about lighting up when the switch was thrown. Mrs. B____ was particularly skilled at taking a glass of water out to the sign and throwing the water up on a particular section of the neon lights — which would make the sign come on. It was my duty to “light the sign” one night and I’ll bet I threw 20 gallons of water, one glass at a time, and that dang sign never would come on.

    It was a summer of early mornings, late nights, starry night skies, roaming the beach, tons of seafood, fishing, brief flirtations and romances, lots of sun and countless attempts to catch and strangle Kitty Tom. I threw him off the dock once and never knew until that moment that cats could swim. He swam back to the dock, climbed up the piling and continued straight up my bare leg.

    We’ve passed through Destin several times in recent years. While progress is usually welcomed it’s also a bit saddening to see how the place has changed. The house we rented is gone. The back streets with the little summer shacks are gone. The sandy spit where the birds nested on the ground is about to sink or tip over under the burden of too many high-rises. I cannot find a trace of where Motel Capri by the Sea used to be. I’m afraid Destin has changed from a “sleepy little fishing village” to a “sleepy little fishing village with a drinking problem.” I’ve even heard it described as “a sleepy little drinking village with a fishing problem.” That’s kinda sad.

    Oh, well…. Thanks for letting me reminisce.

    Oh, several years later I offered the suitcase to Goodwill. They wouldn’t take it.

  29. Kathryn - August 13, 2019 3:09 pm

    You are beautiful, Sean! Destin was too, once, but no more. And some people are gonna have to answer for that one day before the One who created it. Thanks for another great column.


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