Growing up, the saddest day of the summer was not the first day of school. For me, it was that morning when I woke up to see the early-morning sun tracing a shimmering path across the Atlantic Ocean to kiss the golden dunes of Ocean City, and I knew that I would be turning my back on that sun to head back to Baltimore because our annual vacation was over. The fastest week of the year had been filled with sandcastles, body surfing, tips to the boardwalk and a ride on Trimper's merry-go-round. Our neon green glow sticks had lost their luminescence and the Pop-Tart beach towel was stored in the canvas bag for another season.
I returned from our family vacation this past weekend thinking about those vacations past. Now, I am the old uncle who reveled in watching my nieces run from the lapping waves and woke much too early to their excited morning squawking. As I rode home with my parents, I got to watch the familiar landmarks of the vacation roadtrip come upon us in reverse: Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, the bridge over the Choptank at Cambridge, the Queenstown outlet shops, the crammed span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the I-97 interchange, then I-695, and finally, home.
Nothing was more depressing for me than the Saturdays that we left Ocean City behind.
Now, we visit the Delaware shore (it's just so much more peaceful). Now, we have kids of our own. Now, we go to bed before 10pm. And now, the blessing of vacation is not how much I get out of it; rather, it's the simple joy of being together.
I imagine many a vacationer can identify with that sinking feeling of heading home - back to work, back to school, back to reality. However, this year, I think I understand better how to truly counter that post-vacation depression.
I am grateful for the time spent with Mom and Dad and my brothers and sisters and nieces; grateful for the opportunity to gather together under one roof and share life again; and yes, grateful to be able to say farewell and return to the "real world," where we all must live our lives. When we are grateful, we can live in the moment without losing sight of the world around us. When we appreciate the moments we are given and are truly thankful, then life is truly alive to us. Without this sense of gratitude, life simply becomes a drudgery - a disappointment - an endless journey from regret to regret.
As a Catholic, I certainly appreciated coming home and gathering with my parish to celebrate the Eucharist - our Thanksgiving meal. It is a reminder to us that we are truly given something to appreciate - here in this moment. Jesus gives us Himself, and we are grateful - and hopefully aware for the moments that He gives us here together - with one another and with Him.
That same sun that we watched over the Atlantic still shines on us now - even if our toes aren't sunk in the sand. And in its light, we are given all the things that enrich our lives and make them special. May we be truly grateful.