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Notes from the Small Pond: Thankful

Until a month ago, I’d been to Hawaii exactly zero times.

Then, in something of a Bucket-List-Moment, my daughter, her husband and their perfect-and-beautiful, baby — my third perfect-and-beautiful grandson — 15 months old and embarrassingly genius, heartbreakingly sensitive, flirtatiously affectionate and the perfect amount of manipulative — like everyone else’s grandkid, but just better — convinced me and my beautiful, embarrassingly genius, heartbreakingly sensitive and flirtatiously affectionate, spot-on manipulative wife to meet them in Hawaii for two weeks in November.

Turns out, the rumors are correct.

Hawaii is nice.

It’s warm there in November and when I shoved everyone to bed after dark, doped with wine and 12 hours of saltwater air and pounds of delicious raw fish and promises of another ungodly beautiful day with the Pacific Ocean looming in every direction and the winds softly doing the ocean’s bidding, the moon teasing waves onto the shore like a giant tongue licking, I decided I’d grab up my pen and notebook and sneak down to where the water pounded the island like a gentle, insistent metronome.

I stood there in the dark with the stars pouring down and Venus pointing her finger, directing, her moon glint on the waves like a wickering candle.

I stood and stared at the water rolling in while a girl in the pool behind me, about 13, in a swimsuit, laugh-screamed at some boy about 17, embroidered pockets on his jeans and white Adidas, who acted as smitten as she was, but wasn’t, and begged her to come out of the pool and go somewhere.

And while the girl in the swimsuit refused to refuse, climbing out of the pool, the boy refusing to refuse her non-refusal, I walked closer to the ocean, taking deep breaths, remembering I was Old Now and nothing was any of my biznass.

Ankle-deep in the Pacific Ocean as it laps up against a Pacific island at somewhere close to midnight is a thing people who aren’t dead should aspire to experience if they haven’t. Those that have should aspire to do so, again.

Ankle-deep is soon to the knee. And then hip.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I was soaked. I hadn’t moved except to lunge forward or back during the push-tug-pull and suck of the waves around my legs to stay balanced and not fall over, go under.

Then I was under.

Beneath the surface, the water felt different than it did in the day. It pulled harder Out than it pushed In. As my pants filled with beach gravel — ground-up coral and shells of things that lived a zillion years ago — I could see the moon.

Through the saltwater and the 239,000 miles of air, there it sat, planted in the sky like a yellow hole in the black velvet fabric of star-sprinkled night.

While I can hold my breath for almost two minutes while sitting in an airplane seat taxiing to the gate, doing anything to pass the time, beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean, being dragged out to sea, my lungs burned for oxygen within seconds of being under.

But I couldn’t get above the pull. It was like a river. Saltwater came into my mouth and I coughed and drank more and coughed more and my lungs sucked in throatfuls of brine.

My brain called up the memory of me, about 6 years old, standing at the garden hose in my yard trying to fill a limp balloon with water while the older kids squirted each other with squirt guns and blasted each other with exploding water balloons. One of the kids had a squirt gun shaped like an M-16, triggering my first memory of covetousness. (The kid with the M-16 squirt gun was Billy Anderson.)

Finally, the ocean and the rhythm of the moon lifted me upright from the seafloor, into a quasi-standing position, upward and shoreward, and I ran on the water, my legs bicycling like a circus clown on a tightrope, as this one particular wave — of all the waves that have ever pulsed through the planet’s waters since the dawn of time — this one particular wave, breached at precisely the right time to lift me from the puka-shell bottom of the ocean to the beach, where I lurched ashore like a sprinter through the finish line.

I fell down and vomited saltwater, gasping and swearing and coughing.

A newlywed couple strolled past me on their midnight, moonlit, fresh-married stroll. The bride had white flowers braided into her raven hair.

“You cool?” the husband asked, slowing down just a little.

I could only nod my head “Yes” between barf gags and spitting like everyone does after a good volley of throwing up.

“Cool,” the husband said, then he and the New Mrs. walked on toward their forever and I stayed there, spitting, crouched and crawling thankfully toward mine.

Cloquet's Parnell Thill is previous "Columnist of the Year" winner in Minnesota and author of “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks,” available online. His opinions are his own, as are a few of the moments he describes to make his point. Contact him c/o [email protected].