The big, twin rotor helicopter thundered down our beach. My son, all of three, with his mop of curly brown, salt-crusted hair, was mesmerized. As it passed in front of us, the gentleman in the doorway in his olive drab uniform and glistening white helmet, waved a giant’s wave.
“Oooh Daddy!” was all my son could say. His eyes glowed as we watched this enormous machine, rotors beating the air, turbines whining, march steadily north. When it slipped out of sight, I grabbed a stick and drew a helicopter in the sand, big enough for the two of us. I gave him the stick and the pilot’s seat and we lifted off from our little piece of beach and flew out over the ocean. We dipped and dove and chased seagulls, dolphins and the setting sun. For a few minutes we enjoyed a perfect fantasy, a father and son moment of fleeting magic as pure as the sparkle of those tiny fish that glide through the breaking surf.
We came in for a landing when we were told it was time for lunch. When we returned to our helicopter, the tide had washed it away. No matter, I assured him, I would carve a new one. But our imaginations had moved on to something else and we never flew another helicopter.
Fifteen years later, I’m on that same stretch of coast line. And all I see is beach, and sand, and salt water. A helicopter approached from the south and buzzed past.
Then I carved a helicopter in the sand and for a brief moment he was three again, and we climbed into that sandy patch of magic and took off. We buzzed the tree tops and seagulls, boats and dolphins, pirates and whales until she asked: “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
I sat down in my helicopter and waited for the water to wash away my sins. And I saw moments in time; of tempers flaring and patience lost, of rash decisions and time stolen, and I asked for forgiveness, from him, and God. And I asked for one more flight with that little sandy haired boy in that magical helicopter.
One more flight.
And my answer was a salty wave that washed across my toes, streaked across my face, and carried my helicopter out to sea.