I’m sitting on the Walton County beach, I am sipping a beer with my wife, eating Chili Cheese Fritos directly from the bag. She is hogging the bag.
The spring-break teenage rowdies have finally gone home and the median age of our town population has risen to over age fifty again.
As a teenager, I used to sit on this beach a lot. When I needed to think I would sit alone, long past sunset until I would get so cold I was no longer able to biologically have children.
Sometimes I would sit for hours after the sky went dark and stare at an endless Gulf of Mexico. The sound of wind and water does things to me.
One night, I was on the beach in the dark. I was sixteen, and I was sad because of something that truly doesn’t matter now—though, back then it felt like the end of the world.
I felt overlooked by the universe, unexceptional, and unloved. They were feelings I couldn’t shake.
I was wondering why people act ugly toward each other. I was wondering if anything existed in the distance besides waves and foam.
That’s when I saw two shapes approaching.
Two elderly women were walking the shore, I could hear them laughing. They wore heavy jackets, wool caps, and carried backpacks. They were wiry, and athletic.
One woman was Puerto Rican, with white hair and a dark complexion. The other was from Australia. I will never forget them.
The women said they were traveling the world together on a shoestring budget. They had already visited four continents, walked hundreds of miles on foot, and relied on the kindness of strangers.
They had been sleeping in tents, riding in cabs, living out of backpacks, frequenting motels and hostels, and eating like royalty.
Then, both women sat next to me in the sand. One woman removed a hip flask. She asked if I wanted a sip.
“No thanks,” I said.
Not only was I sixteen, but I was Southern Baptist. And the last thing I’d been brought up to do was take a nip in front of a woman who favored Queen Elizabeth II.
But Aussies and Latinas are not like Americanos. They insisted. I took one sip. It burned my throat. They applauded me.
Afterward, I kept waiting for the Devil to pull up on a motorcycle and drag me off to Hell, kicking and screaming.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, we talked. They told me about their countries, I told them about myself.
And I found myself telling them a lot. My life story, actually—which wasn’t a very lengthy one back then.
While I spoke, the Puerto Rican scooted close to me, the Australian did, too. They placed arms around me, then pulled me tight. And I learned that some foreigners don’t respect personal space like most Americans do.
When I finished talking, we sat in silence for a little while, huddled together, watching a violet sky.
One, an elderly Australian. One from an Isla del Caribe. And one kid so cold his butcheeks were stuck together.
We were from different places on the globe, and we had different values. But that night we were the same. We were human, beneath our stars, and a moon we all share.
“I’m sorry I talked so much,” I told them. “I didn’t mean to carry on.”
“Well, I’m not sorry,” said the Australian. “Because now we’re not strangers anymore.”
The Australian reached into her coat pocket and gave me a small clay figurine that was painted multi colors.
“What’s this?” I said.
“I made it,” she said. “It’s good luck.”
So, I reached into my pocket for something to give in return. All I could find was an aluminum pop-top from a Coke can.
She laughed. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll keep it forever.” She strung it onto a chain she wore around her neck.
“We should go,” the Puerto Rican woman announced. “We have a long way left to walk to our hotel.”
They each kissed me on the forehead. And soon they were gone. I saw them walk along the shoreline until they disappeared into the night.
From time to time I wonder about them. I wonder where they finally landed. I wonder if they know how good they made a kid feel by giving him the kindness of their attention.
Sometimes, I wonder if they were truly from Australia, and Puerto Rico, or from somewhere much, much further north. I don’t know.
So I might be a stranger to you, whoever you are. We might never meet in person before this life is over, but if you’ve read this far, we’re not strangers anymore. I want you to know that you are loved.
Please don’t tell my mother about the flask.
Kirk E Chamberlain - April 14, 2021 7:11 am
Adventure travel, the most meaningful … resonates with me and my experiences over the years traveling on a small sailboat on the cheap, real exchanges with people who haven’t forgotten to live.
After a surprised revelation on a beach in PR, a lady in a sandwich shop, we returned and lived on Culebra, Puerto Rico 🇵🇷
Same on many places away from tourist destinations, Venezuela is another pearl.
Now you have me thinking about those chance exchanges, had one on a mountain lake yesterday … Your attitude is your life
Diane Toth - April 14, 2021 12:50 pm
This touched my soul like many of your stories. Be well friend.
Dianne - April 14, 2021 7:52 am
You are loved, too, by many, Sean.
Kay - April 14, 2021 8:50 am
It is a blessing to know you. Thank you
stephenpe - April 14, 2021 9:04 am
When I was 16 I walked those Gulf Beaches (further south) and ruminated over love lost. My first love. I remember well that one night walkng so far whistling the whole time, music from that movie at the tme for lovers, Love Story. I didnt meet any foreign ladies but that ocean seemed to make my problems seem smaller and that ode to love I whistled helped me forget.
mark3:26 - April 14, 2021 9:10 am
We are all visitors. We can all be angels.
Bob Brenner - April 14, 2021 9:25 am
Hello my friend ❤️ Thanks!
Glenda E Hulbert - April 14, 2021 9:27 am
Love this one Sean ~ sharing.
Trey - April 14, 2021 9:36 am
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” // Hebrews 13:2 KJV
Linda B. - April 14, 2021 10:25 am
Thank you so much for another wonderful story.
Linda J Hendrix - April 14, 2021 10:38 am
Truly delightful, Sean. I believe God gives us little nuggets of his love through kindness shared to mold us, especially when we are young. They were angels, you know. They are amongst us. Blessings
joan moore - April 14, 2021 11:08 am
Hebrews 13:2 right there on that beach, very cool.
Leigh Amiot - April 14, 2021 11:18 am
Sitting by the ocean makes the troubles of a heart go away…or at least erodes them a little bit.
Lander - April 14, 2021 11:35 am
And so there are many of us who are thankful for a couple of adventurous elderly ladies who aren’t afraid of showing they care. Thanks, Sean.
Rosemary Hopkins - April 14, 2021 12:05 pm
Love all of your stories. You are fantastic!!!
Iris Hamlin - April 14, 2021 12:10 pm
We have not met but we are not strangers. You touch my soul with all you share. Thank you.
Margot Miller - April 14, 2021 12:27 pm
Hey Sean, I am a southern ex-pat living in New Mexico. I love it here but damn I miss the beach. Your words made me almost able to smell it. I grew up going to the guf coast every summer and I continued to go every year, sometimes more than once, through out my adult life until I moved west almost 11 years ago. Mountains are beautiful but the gulf heals. I once told my dad, an Episcopal bishop, that if heaven didn’t have a beach I didn’t want to go. He said it did. He also made me feel unconditionally loved. You are loved Sean, you take me home every day, Margot
Kathy Compton - April 14, 2021 12:48 pm
I agree with so many of the comments. I love this story and am grateful for the encouragement these women provided for you at such a tender age.
Loneliness seems to be a big problem in our world today. Too much social media, too much distance from family, too much doubt about the future. People need the Lord! And I am keenly aware there is a lot of loneliness in the church, especially currently (and for the past 13 months) when meeting together is restricted.
You are a blessing, Sean. Thank you
Cele - April 14, 2021 12:58 pm
Sometimes we entertain angels unaware.
Norma Johnson - April 14, 2021 1:11 pm
Just learned of your writing….it always makes my day and I send along to family and friends….you are both to me because of your writing….WHAT A TREASURE YOU ARE, SEAN!
Joe Ann Huneycutt - April 14, 2021 1:14 pm
Love are loved Sean! Thank you
Liz Watkins - April 14, 2021 1:26 pm
God knows when to send His Heavenly Angels to soothe our Aching hearts and sorrowful souls!
You are so loved, Sean❤️
Blessings for a great day🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻
Jan - April 14, 2021 1:49 pm
You are loved by many, Sean! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.
Kathleen Casteel - April 14, 2021 1:51 pm
Thank you, Sean. I needed that more than you know. Keep coming, my friend!
Mary Fentress - April 14, 2021 3:05 pm
If only the young people of today could have wonderful memories like these. Thank you for sharing
Marge - April 14, 2021 3:10 pm
How blessed you were that moonlit sky night, Sean! The same way you bless us every day with your words!
Connie - April 14, 2021 3:10 pm
I’ve been blessed to see you in person and get a couple of hugs from you. I have autographed books to prove it. I think you’re pretty special and you write to the hearts in all of us. Love and hugs to you and Jamie.
Christina - April 14, 2021 3:18 pm
Your next book should be “Touched by Angels”, considering all your encounters. Perhaps that’s a reason we don’t feel like strangers in this space.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - April 14, 2021 3:46 pm
You just never know when you’ll meet someone really interesting. Even better when you remember that person(s) forever.
I’ve seen 15 countries & 30 states. Every once in a while I get a flashback of someone I met many years ago. I always wonder where life has taken them. All of them add up to make me who I am today.
I hope that at least some still remember meeting me.
Linda Moon - April 14, 2021 4:22 pm
Ah…..the memories of being a Spring Break Rowdy while I’m looking at a picture of four of us from long ago and reading this column. Sixteen-year-olds’ perceptions change over time, but the memories are fixed forever. My mother favored The Queen and might’ve carried a flask or two on the beaches she loved. You, columnist, are loved to the Moon and back. If I ever meet your mother I won’t tell her about the flask. Instead, I’ll tell her what a good job she did in raising you, “Stranger Sean”.
Karen D. - April 14, 2021 5:27 pm
Thanks Sean! What a great story today…as all your stories have been so far. The wind, water and especially the beach call to me all the time. I live a 1/2 block from a small bayou in North Louisiana. I sometimes go and sit on the incline next to it (I call it a hill but truly it is just an incline). I talk to God most of the time or I just sit in silence and watch the ducks or the stars come out if it is late enough. Every once in a while a person will walk by and say Hello. I hope one day I will have an experience like you had that night when you were a teenager on the beach! Through your stories I truly do feel like you are a friend. You greet me every morning at work and lift my spirits at home on the weekends. I imagine you are loved wherever you go and I bet your mother would forgive you about the flask! Have a great day and I will see you in the morning!
Terri Hinds - April 14, 2021 6:31 pm
love is all we need🙏💕⚓
Juanita - April 14, 2021 6:45 pm
Suzanne Moore - April 14, 2021 6:55 pm
This was priceless, Sean. I don’t know how I managed before I had your daily offerings.
Charla Jean - April 14, 2021 7:02 pm
Don’t you just love it when people take the time to listen to each other, rather than thinking of what they are going to say once you stop talking! I love this & YOU! Wouldn’t it be cool if those ladies read your story and wrote back saying Hey! That was us!!!
Tammy S. - April 14, 2021 9:01 pm
Sure needed this “hug through email” today. Two weeks ago today I went to my childhood home in TN to be with my baby sister (there are 5 of us girls) along with the rest of our family, as she, her husband and 3 kiddos buried their son/brother. My nephew was 22. He was funny, sensitive, a GREAT writer, and most beloved by our large family. A week ago today I headed back home from TN back to NC. Shouldn’t the world stop for a bit when you lose someone you love so much! My heart hurts most for my sister and her family. If you pray, please remember them. And thanks for the reminder that the way we get through tough moments is being together and giving encouraging words. You’re the best at this, Sean. Thanks. Love to you & Jamie from Dickie & me.
Linda clifton - April 14, 2021 10:00 pm
I won’t tell about your little slip from perfection. And love you too Sean !
Patricia Schwindt - April 14, 2021 10:29 pm
I had just finished reading “A Horse With No Name” before I read “On the Beach”. And I thought you couldn’t get any better.
I do believe in angels as we walk this earth. I have visited with several. One, I even knew at the time she had to be an angel. We met on a hover-craft leaving the white cliffs of Dover on the way to Calais in France. I had about fifty dollars in my purse and a credit card, but had worked all summer as a temp secretary in London, so I had a few paychecks coming. It was the last summer before I started my MA program in Teaching English as a Second Language, and I had virtually lost everything (it’s a long story) before desperation forced me to go for some more student loans and move into family housing at the university. There was something about this woman. She was a nurse, traveling alone like I was. I only had the money for the airfare to London because my student loan money had come in and I was able to pay off my pile of debts with enough left over for the air ticket and a couple hundred bucks. We talked, and while I can’t remember a word we said except that it had nothing to do with my current life situation. But she made me know in my soul that I was in the right place, at the right time in my life, doing the right thing. She was an angel, I swear. Just like your two old ladies on the beach. I loved that story!
Walter buehler - April 14, 2021 10:30 pm
Another great inspiring story!
Patricia Gibson - April 14, 2021 11:25 pm
Love you, Sean❤️❤️
Anita - April 14, 2021 11:33 pm
Wish I could write like you. SO ENJOY your writing. I’m an “Old”Senior (Southern) Citizen and can Still remember wondering at that age ?????🤪. A Senior (86) that just Two Hours Ago decided to put the house on the market and move to a “Very, Active”nice Senior Living .SAM the Dog can come with me and will have to adjust (Just Like Me)🙄 A New Page Turns I know you have not gotten Near this time in your Life, but a little Southern Humor on this subject might surprise you.
Anne Trawick - April 15, 2021 2:54 am
Again, you nailed it.
Geneva Boehs - April 15, 2021 5:20 pm
Ok. So now I HAVE to comment. Wow. Yup, I believe in angels, too. It’s happened in my own life and in the lives of those close to me too many times to deny. I was a bit low this morning. That, too, is a long story. Then I read in a devotional by Lysa TerKeurst (Embraced) that had Psa. 139:14 as the scripture reference (“I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”) and THEN I read “On The Beach”. Angels? Of course! All around us! Even on the written page! And Sean, ever since my son told me about your column, blog, articles, whatever they are, and I’ve started reading them (& your books) it has become even more real to me how God uses everything we as individuals encounter to accomplish His purpose for us. Thank you for honing your talent and sharing with us, and being willing to bare your soul. You say it so well. Keep up the good work.
Karen Holderman - April 15, 2021 8:02 pm
Sean, it is funny how we may never see each other. I have found friends that I cherish because of the goodness they exude. It is good to have you as a friend.
Robert L Chiles - April 18, 2021 5:21 pm
“The kindness of their attention.” True kindness! That’s a great turn of phrase.