Grand Haven, Summer 2013

16 Oct

Grand Haven Postcard

The week has almost passed and I have yet to see a sunset.  I’ve missed them all.  Every single one.  I love my family, but moving all four of us in any specific direction can be a bit like turning an ocean liner.  And as our vacation draws to a close, my patience has worn thin.

“I need to get out.  Just for an hour or so.”

Thankfully, Amy agrees.  As I head for the door, I add, “Hey Heath, do you want to go for a walk on the beach?”  And miraculously, he says yes.

Walking beneath the planks of the porch above, and then climbing the wooden stairs, we leave behind the cool green world of our cozy apartment, tucked down the side of a wooded dune, hidden in the trees which surround The Khardomah, a ramshackle 1870 hunting lodge turned boarding house where we’ve been spending our week.  Heath and I cross the quiet street, and as we head down the gently curving road we pass the original Highland Park cottages; the Loch Hame, the Bonnaire, and others, built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when this land was nothing but forest and sand, and far enough from town that, for a time, it had its own trolley line. 

As we round the bend, Lake Michigan opens before us, a vast, inland ocean whose sudden appearance down these steep, curving roads, never fails to take my breath away.  We look out over the beach, windblown under dense gray clouds, extending north to the town’s most famous landmark, the South Pier, its dark candy red lighthouse temporarily shrouded in the gray primer and netting of a late summer paint job.  The green flag on the lifeguard stand flaps in the breeze, indicating it is safe to swim, but the water is largely empty due to its unseasonable chill.  There had been red flags earlier in the week, not for riptides, as is usually the case, but for hypothermia, and while I did not swim on those days, the water remained cold enough throughout the week to give me a chill that was hard to shake.  

From the top of the hill we make our way down four long flights of stairs, through the sand and dune grass, to the road, where we stop to check for cars, then skitter across and into the parking lot, before kicking off our shoes and stepping into the clean, white sand, cool now this late in the day. The water writhes beneath the overcast sky, a chaotic world of gray and white, and the sunset looks hopeless.  But as we approach the gentle roar of the shoreline, the evening breeze ruffles my son’s hair.

I ask him if he wants to walk down to the pier, and he says “Sure.”  And so we begin.  Walking easily.  Relaxing into each other.

A pair of jet skis scream from far out in the water, their noise, amplified by the open distance, seeming oddly loud to be coming from such small bouncing shadows.  Heath asks what they are, and I tell him that, basically, it’s a couple of guys flying around on floating jet engines, and that on a day like this it must be a pretty rough ride.  He asks why anyone would want to do that, and I tell him I haven’t a clue.

The water is cold against our feet, and Heath is timid at first, skipping awkwardly back up above the waterline every time a wave rushes in.  But slowly, he acclimates, growing bolder and stepping further out into the cold, reveling in his own courage. 

“Oh My God! I can’t believe how wet my pants are getting”

“Well, here.  You need to roll them up.”

I step out into the water and roll his long shorts up above his knees, soaking mine in the process, his laughter contagious.

Heath has Asperger’s Syndrome, and, as a result, so many things have been difficult to share.  His mind is sharp, and his passions are strong, but his palette is limited.  Going outdoors is troubling, exercise is not his friend, and moving him beyond a computer screen is a battle gently waged on a daily basis.  And yet here we are, on a whim, walking the waters of my childhood.  And with every step I can see something inside him ease.

The jet skiers call it a day, their sputtering, high-pitched whine fading into the distance, and as the light begins to retreat, we make our way down the beach, passing three boys who have built a small mound of sand, and are now wrestling about, each one struggling to be king of the hill.

At the pier I show Heath a shortcut up the rocks, and having reached the top, we follow the battered concrete out from the shore, walking beneath the catwalk, passing  the last few tourists as we make our way around the lighthouse and then out toward the foghorn, its deep, melancholy moan, one of my first memories, long ago replaced by a smooth sonic “ping “.  Stepping around its squat red bulk, we come to the end.  Three fisherman, their equipment scattered about, stand before an infinity of water and sky.  A reel hums as a one makes a cast.  His sinker plops as it hits the water and disappears into the darkness. 

As we head back toward shore, the lights are coming on in the cottages, stars among the hills.  Reaching the end, we scramble down to the sand, and Heath heads back to the water, greeting the waves as long lost friends, kicking at them, and delighting in the galaxies that explode off the ends of his feet.  Looking back, I see the pier lights come on, and notice, up above, in the northwest , a small opening in the clouds, it’s edges stained orange and red, the colors beginning to leak across the sky.  Heath continues on, wading up to his knees, smashing at the rushing water. 

Both brooding and vibrant, a vivid rose now dusts  the turbulent blue-gray clouds in every direction.  And then, with no visible movement, the gray is vanquished altogether, and everything above me goes pink.  Neon as far as the eye can see.

“Heath, look!”

Suddenly the lake ignites, the sky illuminating the water like fire on foil, blazes of pink dazzling the crests of the dark blue waves, mirroring the sky to the point that for one dizzying moment, I cannot tell them apart.  

“Heath!” I cried


“Are you seeing this?”


Catching up to him, I wrap my arms around his chest and gently turn him toward the light.    

“This is the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen.”

But even as I say it, the color begins to recede; the pink melting to orange, the gray closing in.  I hold him for a moment.  We watch, and nothing seems to change.  But when I look away, and then back again, everything is different.

“Heath, have you ever heard the phrase ‘in the moment’?  Do you know what that means?”

“No.” He replies, slipping from my arms and returning the water.

Following, I do my best to explain: the past is gone, the future never arrives, so all we have is now.  How much he takes in, I can’t be sure.  But in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

He’s already there.

Grand Haven pier 


40 Responses to “Grand Haven, Summer 2013”

  1. Sherry October 16, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Thank you Todd for allowing us to join you and Heath on this father/son walk. What a great experience for the both of you and understandably rare – isn’t it funny how we just never know when these “moments” will present themselves and that yes, we must be present in each and every one to know and appreciate. May you keep having them and hopefully keep sharing 🙂

    • dtoddbell October 16, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      Thank you, Sherry. I will do my best.

  2. chornung88 October 16, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    What a wonderful story! You have quite a way with words and painted a very special picture of an evening with your son. Asperger’s is a challenge, but there are many rewards, too. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!

  3. chimeragirl2010 October 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I love this Derek. Really, truly love this.

  4. Christine Blahut October 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    Derek, having a grandson with sensory issues that are very similar to Aspergers I relate so much to that aspect of your post. Those moments of connection are priceless, and held dear. I love your description of the beach and sunset – two of my favorite things.

  5. Sue Heath October 18, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    Todd, so glad this was a good time spent together. I could almost see the sunset…Sue

  6. scribblechic October 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    An everyday love story, rich with humble miracles that steal our breathe and open our eyes. Beautiful.

  7. segmation October 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    Awesome blog on Asperger’s Syndrome. Thanks for educating us on this topic!

  8. Akhil K A October 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    Really outstanding…..I love this story..

  9. hertypewrite October 18, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    The innocence and playfulness of your precious son radiates out of this work. It’s refreshing to know that, every once in a while, it’s possible to be caught up in the moment. Breath taking.

  10. Let's talk about it October 18, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    I enjoyed reading your story. Thank you for sharing.

  11. highland hind October 19, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    You caught the moment beautifully. A lovely read, thank you

  12. GoosBall October 19, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Really loved the the story. Thanks for educating about Asperger’s Syndrome.

  13. Green Coffee Bean Diet October 19, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    It is wonderful that you were able to share an amazing moment with your son. Thanks for sharing a great story!

  14. blurredlinesbuthope October 19, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Wonderful story, thank you.

  15. markphynkcreative October 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on phynkcreative and commented:
    Grand haven , summer 2013

  16. Liz at Human Nature October 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    What a very beautiful story. I have such a lovely clear picture of your beach and your sunset, and your moment. Thank you so much for sharing.

  17. sixdegreesphotography October 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    It’s moments such as those that make life beautiful.. this was a beautiful moment for you to share with all of fortunate to read this piece..thank you..

  18. Huffygirl October 19, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Beautiful. There is nothing like a Lake Michigan sunset.

  19. DetroitFamilyFun October 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Your words painted a beautiful picture of the electrifying sunset before I even saw the photo at the end. Thank you for sharing and reminding us to live “in the moment”, perfect.

  20. Iraman October 20, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    Reblogged this on Cosmical Traverse.

  21. Schona M October 20, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    Reblogged this on Yin-Yang Mama and commented:
    Fantastic writing, really grasped my attention.
    What a lovely experience…

  22. mertvekendisi October 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Reblogged this on Mertvekendisi.

  23. IdealisticRebel October 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Impressive! I am glad I found you. I invite you to visit my blog. Hugs, Barbara

  24. krisandthebike October 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    A little everydayadventure caught in the moment. thanx for sharing 🙂

  25. locurayarte October 21, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Reblogged this on We are Anonymous and commented:
    Very Beautifull 👍

  26. IdealisticRebel October 21, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Once again, a brilliant blog. Thank you for sharing it, Barbara

  27. rosesforangels October 21, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I enjoyed reading your story and I felt each and every emotion you felt. Very vivid. Thanks again.

  28. Digital Marketing Blog October 22, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    Enjoyed reading it… Love the post!!

  29. Chris Huey October 22, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Reblogged this on Chris Huey – INFINITE THOUGHTS and commented:
    I love Michigan

  30. jihad1964 October 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Reblogged this on killer and commented:
    Berita Hiburan

  31. jihad1964 October 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm #


  32. heyitsclauds November 1, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Wow, this is a beautiful story. Grand Haven is wonderful

  33. viavinhos November 20, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Reblogged this on √inhos.

  34. unfreepersonsunite February 11, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    What a wonderful visual you created with your words! My daughter is mentally challenged, and lives in the moment, but at times she surprises me with insight, too. I can’t wait to get her back, and loved your closing, when you stated he was already at the future. Life with special needs children does have it’s moments, for sure, and I thank God everyday, for having given Jackie to me, too. My problem is that God gave her, and the State TOOK her. My husband became a paraphelegic, and they said I couldn’t care for both of them. He has passed, and I’m trying to get custody of her back. It will be like having the sunshine return.

    • dtoddbell February 11, 2014 at 7:57 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s passing, but I do hope you are able to get your daughter back. I know how incredibly hard that must be. Good Luck.


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