Saturday, July 28, 2012

Life's a Beach

My daughter and son-in-law thought it would be a great idea for our two families to spend some time at the beach together.  I agreed, but it was going to be a challenge, because we were limited time-wise to a long weekend, which made it next to impossible to rent a decent beach house that could comfortably accommodate four adults, a teenager and two toddlers.

We settled on two efficiencies for three nights at the Quality Inn Beachfront in Ocean City, MD.  It was going to be a tight fit, but, who knows?  Perhaps it would be a great time to make some memories with the grandchildren.  The husbands and wives planned on taking turns looking after the kids so the former could have a guys’ night out and the latter could spend an afternoon talking and watching chick-flicks.  And of course, we would make plenty of memories at the beach.  If nothing else, I was looking forward to getting away.  Work had been stressful, and life at home was no picnic either.  Life always has its challenges with an autistic daughter (Angela), but it has been even more difficult lately due to my wife Susan’s foot injury and two surgeries which have severely limited her mobility, thus causing me to carry a significantly heavier load as well.  I was more than ready for some R and R.

Although the weather forecast had been looking very promising all week, we were met with a band of thunderstorms just as we pulled into Ocean City.  That’s when Susan told me that the weather forecasts had changed, and it was going to be raining on and off all weekend.  It seemed like the clouds were following us.  Sometimes I feel like that is the story of my life, both literally and figuratively.
It looked like I would be facing three long days cooped up in an overpriced, phone-booth sized efficiency on a rainy weekend, with an autistic daughter and a semi-disabled wife.  Susan does not even like the beach all that much, but she goes because she enjoys the fact that we enjoy it.  Between the weather and her crutches (which don’t work too well on sand), it was not looking likely that even that would happen. The visions I had of R&R, fun memories and glorious beach time were fading fast.

There were other issues to add to the mix.  My daughter Christine and the two grandkids are on special diets, as is my daughter Angela.  In addition, Susan goes meatless during the summer heat because it causes her migraines.  So we definitely would not be feasting on typical vacation fare. It seemed that my son-in-law Allen and I were the only ones in the entourage who did not “have issues” of one kind or another.  Scratch that.  I think Allen was the only “normal” one of the bunch.  So basically I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to be having a good time. 

Late in the first afternoon, the rain and thunderstorms abated long enough for Allen and I to get to the beach with the grandkids.  We only intended to get our feet wet, but thinking this might be the only chance I would get, I dove into the water in my shorts, and the others followed suit.  Given what the weekend, was looking like otherwise, it was a pretty good start. 

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

I got up early Friday morning and did my best to quietly fix myself some coffee and a bagel while Susan and Angela slept.  I thought perhaps—just perhaps—if they kept on sleeping, I could get a little time to read my Bible and pray and maybe—just maybe—go for a short run on the beach.

It wasn’t meant to be.  I no sooner finished the coffee than Angela was two inches away from my face, obviously wanting breakfast.  I did my best to quietly fix her eggs and cut up some fruit while Susan continued to sleep.  I was successful, and Angela scarfed everything down while I washed dishes in the tiny sink, immediately drying them with a dishcloth, because there was no room for a dish rack.  Just as I was finishing up, Susan started to stir. I might as well fix her breakfast, because a run on the beach was definitely not going to happen.

The sun occasionally peaked through on an otherwise overcast day, and it was decidedly cool, but we were determined to do the beach nonetheless.  Susan made her way out as far as the crutches would allow her, and then started leaning on me once the sand rendered them useless.  Though I wished it were not necessary, I felt an odd sense of joy as she leaned on me.  As I watched Allen and Christine introduce the fun of the beach to James and Jennifer, my mind nostalgically went back to similar moments of thirty-some years ago.  I did manage to get in a few minutes splashing in the water and body surfing.  Not a bad day so far.  I just wish the sun would shine a little more.  And I still haven’t had that run on the beach.  Maybe tomorrow?

That evening, Allen and I had our guys’ night out.  In addition to their self-imposed dietary restrictions, Susan and Christine both have an odd allergy to shellfish, so our opportunities to enjoy Maryland steamed crabs have been severely limited.  It was time, so Allen and I made up for it with a vengeance at an all-you-can-eat establishment.  The crabs were heavenly delicious, and I washed down mine with a couple of cold draft beers. To walk it off, we ended up traversing most of the boardwalk, conversing on a variety of subjects… future vacation plans, work, my upcoming retirement, Allen’s upcoming mission’s trip to New Orleans, what God is teaching us in our respective situations.  It was probably one of the most significant and meaningful conversations we have had, and both of us walked away from it edified and encouraged from the fellowship. Not a bad day!   

And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Day three started out exactly like day two—same sequence: quick coffee and bagel, Angela’s up, have to prepare her breakfast, wash and dry the dishes; Susan’s up, repeat the same steps; forget about the early morning run on the beach.  An odd thought came over me.  I am actually enjoying this.  Where did that come from? 

The new twist to day three was a morning drive to the Ocean City Police Department, to pick up a beach wheelchair we managed to reserve.  Gee, that’s nice.  The chair maneuvers just as well on hard surfaces as on sand, so Susan got to go out on the boardwalk as well as the beach.  That afternoon, I wheeled her out to the water’s edge, and then helped her a few steps so we both had our feet in the water.  We stood together hand in hand as the waves rushed over our feet, probably no more than two or three minutes, but that alone was worth the price of admission.

For a brief moment, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of using a free beach wheelchair courtesy of the Municipality of Ocean City, and I wondered how much it cost the taxpayers.  Surely they could at least charge a modest rental fee.  Then I looked down and saw an inscription on the cross bar:  “This chair was donated by Vincent di Domenico.”  God bless you, paisano!

And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

Sunday morning and the sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was headed up to the mid-eighties.  It would be nice weather on the day we have to leave!  I did manage to get out to the beach that morning and even got in a short run. But as I looked back at the overcast, semi-rainy days, the cramped quarters in the efficiency, and all the limitations imposed on us by the various disabilities, diets and other issues, I was shocked to realize that I actually enjoyed this vacation.  Initially, the more intent I was on getting the R&R and enjoyment that I thought I needed and so richly deserved, the more miserable I was.  But once I gave up on that illusion and made an even feeble attempt at serving others, I actually started to enjoy myself.

I am too much of a self-centered dolt to have figured that one out on my own, but God was gracious enough to teach me that lesson.  It was a great vacation after all.

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