By Dana Gornall
“It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right, I hope you had the time of your life.” ~ Green Day
There is a wad of bright blue gum—the color of blue cotton candy—smashed into the asphalt paved ground.
I’m sitting on the steps of a church in the Cayman Islands, with my chin cupped in my hand and my elbow digging into my knee, staring at this piece of bright blue gum that now has treads of dirt and shoe prints left in it. The air is heavy with humidity, but a nice breeze is blowing out over the clear turquoise water and it feels good in the shade.
Azure—this is the word that comes to mind. We are almost engulfed by pockets of blue, from the bleeding shades of the cool ocean, the bright tuft-clouded sky, to that wad of gum that has been corrupted by dirt and shoes.
My 13 year old daughter shifts around next to me, sliding her feet out of her newly bought flip flops. Her feet have reddened between her toes and her shoes have left strap marks across her feet, as often newly bought shoes do.
My own feet are feeling a bit of rawness themselves from all of the walking we have been doing. We are taking a break; without much cash on hand and feeling a bit defeated, the smooth stone steps of the church see, like a welcome spot to rest our tired souls.
It has been quite a day.
We are on an extended family vacation—and the time leading up to this day, has been dotted with moments of anxiety and sometimes dread whenever I thought about this trip. You see, my family has a history of mishaps and unexpected twists that have occurred on pretty much every single vacation we have ever taken together. When I tell people this, they laugh—but it is true.
Major things have gone wrong.
Which leads me to today, as I sit on the steps of a church in the Caribbean heat staring at a piece of smashed blue gum.
Today we were supposed to pet dolphins—an excursion my dad set up for us knowing my daughter’s intense love of animals and as a present for her recent birthday. We woke up early, showered and put our swimsuits on under our clothes and quickly swallowed down a breakfast of toast and fruit.
We trotted off to our meeting place to hear last minute details of things we were to do and not do, when I found out we needed our passports—the ones still sitting in a bag in my room.
As quickly as we could we dashed back, dodging in and out of people as we went. My heartbeat was racing as I flung open the door to our room and unzipped my bag pulling out our newly minted and shiny blue passports. I zipped up the bag and shut the cabinet door only to realize that our tickets for the excursion were now missing.
“Where are the tickets,” I shouted, emptying the contents of my bag once again. I swore I just had them in my hand. Did I leave them on the table at breakfast? Again, we run back to the place where we swallowed down toast and fruit only to find the table empty.
Sprinting now, we take the stairs two at a time to the front desk, begging the kindly woman to please help us out. She assures us she can print out our tickets again and tells us to return in 10 minutes. I feel a trickle of sweat drip down my back and shiver as we make our way back to the meeting place where we were to find out all of the details about the dolphins. The two of us sit—still breathing heavily—waiting for 10 minutes to go by.
Eventually after some wait and disorganization, we finally board a tiny ferry boat to the island. We are squeezed on the end of a small bench—so close I can feel the sweat from the man sitting next to me as his knee presses against mine.
A deep feeling of panic begins to swell in my chest, and my lungs feel as though the air is a bit thin. I close my eyes and focus on my breath. In, out…one, two, three…in, out. The boat rocks in rhythm and the anxiety seems to abate.
We step onto the island then and join a group under a red tent. Bright pink bracelets are slapped on our wrists and we stand there, waiting—I can feel the stress still wound tightly in my body.
“I’m hungry,” my daughter says. ‘Honey, I don’t want to leave this spot,” I tell her, “I don’t want anymore mishaps.” She nods, looking discontent, and I pull out my phone so we can force a smile for a pre-dolphlin selfie. Rocking back and forth on my feet, I think that I wish I wasn’t here. It’s not that I don’t want to see dolphins, because I do actually, but because I wish I had a “do-over”—a second chance to make it better. I am always working to be better, and yet no matter what I do, I seem to run face to face into failure at every turn.
After what seems like a really long time the woman who placed the bright pink bracelets on our wrists calls my name. The two of us slowly make our way past the crowd of families and couples hand-in-hand, and my mind is tumbling per every possible scenario why she would be calling us. I begin to think that this cannot be good.
She tells us there is a problem. I don’t remember her exact words other than overbooking and I’m sorry and refund. I can physically feel the disappointment emanating from my daughter. It seems to bead up and hang in the air like a dark gray storm cloud over our heads.
“What do we do now?” I ask. They tell us we can walk around and they point out that there are many nice shops in the area. My daughter and I slowly walk away from the red tent and the families and the couples, hand-in-hand, with slightly stunned looks on our faces. She tells me she is hungry and I pat the $40 in my pocket and we begin wandering, bearing right because I always seem to go right.
And so here we are. We sit on the warmed stone steps of a church, surrounded by water and sky and a tiny wad of gum on the ground—in pockets of blue.
I tell my daughter I’m happy we got to spend the day together, even though it didn’t go as planned. I tell her the water is beautiful and we slip on our sandals and make our way down to a tiny beach. She picks up a piece of green sea glass and plops it into our bag.
And we breathe—in, out…one, two, three…in, out. The sky and the water are striking; azure.
We find our way back to the ferry boat and squeeze in again so closely I can feel the sweat from the woman’s shoulder as it presses against mine. I look up into the bright blue sky and my eyes catch sight of a cloud.
“Look, it’s a heart,” I say, nudging my daughter,
“Oh yeah, mom. You should get a picture.”
I pull out my phone from my back pocket, but in an instant it is gone, smeared across the sky with the wind.
“Oh well,” she says, “some things just don’t stick around. Not everything is something for the camera.”
I smile and I breathe as I think of that passing moment. Impermanence.
I think of the day and what a great story this will make. I think of the bright blue sky and the turquoise water and that stupid piece of cotton candy gum. I think of the tiny beach and the talks she and I had today and the sea glass at the bottom of my bag. I think that every moment—the good ones and the bad ones—are only here now and then they are gone, just like that heart-shaped cloud smeared across the sky by the wind.
Because even the bad days have their sunsets.
And even in the mishaps and miscommunications of the day, there was joy. I bow in gratitude, and breathe in…and out.