Ray is the Publisher Emeritus for Appen Media and the Herald newspapers.

Seems like I wrote this same column this time about a year ago. Here we go again, déjà vu!

Time is just racing by, or at least it feels that way. I will turn 67 in a little over a month. Hard to believe.

As frequently happens these days, I was up at 3:30 and no way was I going to be able to go back to sleep. These days, “night” feels more like something between a skirmish and a battle — me against the dark. I usually lose too. Ugh.

Yesterday was July 4. We were at our place in Florida, at the beach. We have been coming here now for about 25 years. Our kids have never known a time when they were not making the six hour pilgrimage down here. They have — as we have — friends who they only know and only see when they are here, friends they have known almost all their lives. This place is sort of our parallel universe. It is our anchor.

And now, as I type, a former hurricane named Elsa is chugging up into the Gulf and should — if it obeys the weather forecaster’s script — veer enough to the east by tomorrow, for our island to “be out of the cone” (the path of the hurricane). And that’s a big deal when your beach is 5 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico and “by boat” is the only way to leave.

Hurricane season is sort of like going to Vegas or recalling Dirty Harry’s: “Well, do you feel lucky?”

How close is Elsa going to stick to the script? How lucky indeed, do we feel? Michael came ashore almost a category 5 and destroyed Mexico Beach last year — or was it the year before? That was maybe 30 miles to the west of us. Do we leave or do we stay?

It feels different this time though, and I think it has something to do with the pandemic. Every year we celebrate — the entire island of about 142 homes — July 4th. There is a wonderful pancake breakfast early in the morning at the volunteer fire station, then an island-wide fish fry — “release to grease” in the afternoon complete with a corn-hole tournament, a “libation contest” (a mixed drink contest to see who can make the best mixed drink), a hula-hoop contest where the age limit is no more than about 7 for one group and then “everyone else.” And of course, can’t forget the parade — lots of decorated golf carts, ATVs, rusted out vehicles barely limping down the sandy road, and Jim dressed as Uncle Sam walking on really, really tall stilts. It’s almost always borderline unbearably hot and muggy, but this year, thank you climate change, it was in the mid to high 70s. Turnout was the largest I recall.

It’s the virus — or better said, the respite from it — that made everything different. Everyone seemed to act like it was Christmas morning, just glad to be alive and sharing “life” again with each other. “Sharing” is what has made it as Christmas. We needed this, we wanted this, and it showed.

This long, hard slog we have all been going through — the slog that has subtly and, sure, often not so subtly, made life so disjointed, so frustrating, so draining, suck-the-life out of your bones dreary and debilitating — felt behind us. The sun coming up out of the eastern horizon seemed brighter than I recall.

So, long time coming.

Right now, the sun is actually creeping out of the eastern sky — I’m watching it, looking for a hole in the dark, overcast low cloud cover — trying to break through, but I don’t think it will today. There’s something — someone — behind it: Elsa. But that’s okay, I think.

I do feel lucky right now, very lucky to be part of the human race today, fully engaged or at least, a whole lot more engaged than during the past year and a half.

Happy belated 4th you all. Happy, happy.