In the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, after having made arrangements for the care of all the animals, Sherod and I drove down to what some folks call the “Redneck Riviera”. We were going for some very quick R&R in Destin, Florida, before the new realities of working full-time kick in on Sept 1. School has started just about everywhere now so the crowds are much, much smaller, especially when you check in on a Sunday and leave Tuesday. We got a good deal at the Sandestin Resort, packed our bags and took off.
As we walked from the car to the lobby to check in, I could already smell the sea breeze. It was wonderful. Check-in was uneventful, we got our keys and headed to our room. It didn’t take more than 2 seconds after we opened the door to realize we’d been sent to a room that had not been cleaned. In fact, the previous guests must have had a truly grand time to judge by the mess they left behind. A call, abject apologies, a return to the lobby, and we were sent to a much, much fancier room, higher up in the fancier wing of the resort. Much of the room was wasted on us—it had a little ‘bunk nook’ where small children could sleep comfortably and even give their parents some privacy. But the balcony was lovely and the view spectacular.
The weather could not have been more perfect yesterday, especially in the morning. We read and swam and sat under the umbrella and didn’t do a whole lot. We had some nice food. By this morning, we were ready to come home.
I think it’s like this: In my last year living in New Orleans, I was a chaplain intern at what was then Southern Baptist Hospital. I was buying time, trying to figure out how in heavens name to get to seminary and begin the ordination process as a Colombian woman on a student visa who was in a diocese that was only just barely beginning to consider women for ordination. I had no real idea how the process worked and even less sense of how to navigate the institutional and political realities of the Episcopal Church. It didn’t help matters that for two years, I had been babysitting the Bishop’s children—he or his wife would come to my dorm to pick me up whenever they needed me to stay with their girls because I didn’t even own a car. The pieces just weren’t there to be taken seriously.
I had landed in this year-long internship when the priest who was responsible for campus ministries at Tulane recommended I apply for this program to at least begin to get some piece of preparation for ordination behind me. I could get a paid internship because I had just graduated from college and I could get a special visa extension for “practical training”; if all else failed, doing this internship would allow a bit more time to figure out what I could do next.
The work was brutal that year; I did not have the theological underpinning to make a lot of sense of what I was doing. What I did have though, was the privilege of working with an amazing hospital staff. There’s a kind of humor in hospitals that I have never found anywhere else and still miss! One night, right before Christmas, I was on call, which meant I slept over at the hospital and was available for any and all calls where the nursing/medical staff thought a chaplain could be of help. There were 7 deaths that night, 3 of them in the oncology unit where I had gotten to know most of the patients because it was one of my assigned units. One of the nurses looked at me and said, “Sugar, after a night like this, there ain’t but two things can get you through: real good food or real good sex.” I actually found a third alternative. More than once, still without a car, I got on a Greyhound bus and rode to Biloxi to sit on the beach for a few hours and let the ocean do its healing. I also became really good friends with one nurse, Katherine, and when summer approached, we agreed that the next really bad time, we were going to the real beach, the beach around Pensacola, or even better, Destin.
On one summer weekend when it hadn’t even been a bad week, but we both had enough money, we took off in her little Honda (and in those days, they were little). We crossed the Pontchartrain headed out of New Orleans on a Friday afternoon and got to Pensacola pretty late in the evening but not too late to party at Seville Quarter, which in those days was a happening place. If memory serves me correctly, we got back to our tiny, cheap motel room almost at dawn. We slept a couple of hours and then continued to Destin. The beach was a great place to recover. What I remember most is that in those days, all there was along Highway 98 was sky, sun, the most glorious water I had ever seen, and sand dunes–miles, and miles, and miles of sand dunes. Even at the height of summer, the traffic wasn’t bad and the stretch of beach we found was almost empty. In the midst of the grit and suffering and death that defined so much of my internship, that weekend was one of the very best experiences of being young and carefree I ever had.
The contrast between that memory and what Destin has become sorta hurt. It’s a resort destination now, manicured, developed, and designed almost beyond recognition. There are a few places where you can still see the wildness of dunes. I noticed both mornings we were there that a tractor was smoothing out the sand, as if, somehow, the sand was not pristine enough, not beautiful enough as plain old sand on a beach. There is no sense of connection—it is all commodity. Turns out that almost the best part of these days was the rides down and back on country roads that took us through places like Liberty, Opp, Pine Apple, Greenville and Georgiana. By far, the very best part was getting back home to Lowndes County, the good ole 45.
A north wind is blowing and the high today was about 84 with low humidity. Fall is moving this way. Late this afternoon, we let the girls out of the coop and sat and enjoyed their antics, my Mallowman and me. We didn’t have to pay $45.00 for the chairs we sat in, I drank some water, Sherod some Costco wine, not $20 margaritas. This is Sabbath time for us–right where we live.
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