The path in and the path out: an interlude and an allegory


Sometimes it takes persistence to find the perfect stretch of sand.

That’s what my children and I found out during a day trip to Tigertail Beach in Florida on our last vacation. We paid our eight bucks to park and lugged our backpack, chair, lunch and selves down to what we’d been told was one of the most delightful pieces of the Gulf Coast. Anticipation was riding high.

But not so fast. What we found looked more like a mud flat, with a water inlet on its far border and a mangrove thicket beyond that. The kids, pumped up on the prospect of unrivalled Floridian beach beauty, looked out at the muck, then up at me, and said, silently, ‘Is this it?’

It wasn’t. This wasn’t paradise on a plate. I asked a man lugging his own version of a baggage caravan where the real beach was. Ah, he said, to find that, you need to cross the inlet, march through the mangrove and then you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Gulf of Mexico.

That was enough to motivate my crew. We stomped through the muck — about an inch thick and squishy — onto a path traversed by crabs. At the end, we found a pristine white sand beach. We were delighted with the scene and pleased with ourselves.

Following a full day of swimming in sparkly water, building castles, collecting shells, burying each other in the white sand, bird watching and sun soaking, we began the trek back to the car, fully satisfied. Loaded up with our gear, we found our path through the mangrove thicket had disappeared. The tide waits for no family; it was in, and lapping my ankles (and the childrens’ shins) as we sloshed along. The crabs, who had scuttled out of our way on the way in, held their ground under water, and pinched at our feet.

The inlet had been erased, and the mucky cove was now covered by water that came up to my chest. Either of the kids would be submerged unless they swam, and my son hasn’t even had a lesson yet.

‘No looking down!’ I told them. ‘Just look straight ahead, to where the car is.’ Silently, I told myself the same thing to calm my nerves. I was awfully weighted down even before I picked up my son, who couldn’t cross any other way.

Staggering with him in my arms, the backpack and lunch bag draped over my shoulders. I had strapped the beach chair to my back and my daughter resolutely grabbed on and kicked for all she was worth. The crabs kept up their pinching, the mosquitos swooped in for their afternoon snacking, and for all we knew fish, frogs and other south-Florida beasties might be arriving at any moment to check us out under the surface. Did I mention we are from the urban jungle of Manhattan? Woah.

But we couldn’t let our imaginations go that far. We sang, laughed, and talked about ice cream. It was a long trip, but we made it, a little creeped out, but otherwise intact. The reward for our fortitude was in the ice cream truck in the parking lot. Never had black top looked so inviting.

So it took some persistence to get what we wanted. It took a great deal more to cope with the complications that arose from getting what we wanted. The unanticipated challenges that followed a trip to paradise were far tougher to handle. Yet with the right mindset, we overcame them, too.

This is a story I’ve been sharing with friends who — like me — are in a tough stretch after many good years. It’s been hard to accept that getting what you want can, sometimes, lead to disappointments and unforeseen complications.

But it’s part of the trip. The attitude counts for everything.

It’s another invaluable lesson my kids have helped me absorb. I’m sure we’ll all remind each other of that long post-paradise slog, wherever we trek in the future.

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