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A near empty beach at Gulf Shores State Park while the beaches in front of large high rise condos are crowded in Gulf Shores Alabama, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

As a troubled summer comes to its official close this week, with fall formally starting on Wednesday, I’ve been thinking about what my family’s trips to the beach over the years have taught me about the power of possibility — a lesson I want to carry as the calendar deepens into autumn.

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When my daughter and son were small, my wife and I tried to take the kids to our favorite stretch on the Gulf Coast at least once each summer, a trip that wasn’t always easy. Behind the wheel for several hours in a car crammed with suitcases and plastic pails, ice chests and inflatable toys, bags of groceries and fierce sibling rivalry, I sometimes wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.

What made each trip worth it, I guess, were the moments I’d stand with our children in the warm summer surf, watching the sea stretch for miles. Rising and falling gently beneath our knees, the ocean told its timeless tale of abundance, leaving a litter of seashells as the tide rolled out.

This was a world generous enough to yield its treasures at your feet. As we stood in the waves under a flawless sky, it was easy to believe that life could bring you anything.

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Our daughter loved the beach so much that she welcomed the chance to live a few blocks from one, moving to California after college. A bigger draw in living out west was the chance to be near her boyfriend, who quietly secured our blessing last Easter to marry her. He also asked if we’d be on hand this summer for the surprise proposal. Last month, my wife and I flew out to applaud after he popped the question on bended knee and got the answer he wanted.

It’s been a tough summer as a pandemic persists, Afghanistan languishes and Louisiana struggles to rebound from Hurricane Ida. The weather map continues to routinely bring other worries, and political divisions complicate our resolve.

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But there is also this news: In this season, as in every season regardless of the headlines, brave young people are betting on brighter days, pledging their lives to each other for decades to come. In their hope, we can find our hope, too.

Or so it occurred to me a couple of days after my daughter agreed to become a young man’s wife. In a small nod to beach days past, she drove my wife and me to the nearby shore. Dipping my toes in the Pacific for the first time on a postcard-perfect summer day, I placed an arm around the bride-to-be’s shoulder — a father and daughter in the tide once more, scanning the eternal sea.

What we were looking at, I suppose, was the future. In that magical moment in an anxious year, it looked as bright as it could be.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.