Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lessons from Sea Glass

" Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly...

- Lennon/McCartney

The twins were born in April.  By late summer their dad, big sissy and I were exhausted.  Neither Emma nor Clara slept through the night...and rarely at the same time.  Both my mother and mother-in-law visited our home in Massachusetts on separate occasions to help care for the twins so that I would have time in the office each day to work with patients.  It was such a relief to have another pair of arms, legs, hands and a big warm heart nearby to walk, rock, coo and cuddle our infant daughters.

The days were filled with bathing, feeding, long walks in their double stroller to make them sleepy…and then more feeding, bathing and cuddling before heading into the long nights of one up, one down, both up, me down...for the count.

One August morning before dawn just as I had gotten Clara to sleep after a restless night, my mother-in-law, Nonie, tiptoed into our bedroom and gently shook my shoulder.  I looked up from an exhausted half-sleep wondering who was crying, when I realized it was silent.  Everyone in the room was sleeping...the girls, their dad and well, I
had been.  Nonie motioned for me to follow her into the adjacent kitchen of our modest carriage house on a large estate.  I followed, concerned that something had happened to one of the girls or Hannah while I had been dozing.  But Nonie’s eyes were alight with promise, not concern.

"Go get your things", she started, "everything you will need for a day away from the girls, the house, the office.  Take the car and drive somewhere and don't come back until you feel rested, inspired and refreshed."  I threw my arms around her neck and whispered a deeply felt "thank you" before slipping back into the bedroom to pull on a bathing suit, a loose linen shift dress and my flip-flops.  I pulled a large tote bag out from next to my desk and in it I threw a copy of
Science and Health and the Bible, a large sketch pad, my journal and pens, pencils, a water bottle, and a large batik scarf I could use as a sarong or as a throw for sleeping.  Nonie stood in the predawn-lit doorway.  With a last grateful glance back at her to say "thank you" again, I was in the Jeep.

I knew exactly where I would go.  My heart was on autopilot.  I needed this day....I had needed it for months and there was only one place calling to me.  Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea.  I pointed the nose of the Jeep north then east up Route 128 and onto Route 127, through the canopied rural back roads in the tranquil violet light of dawn to reach my favorite New England village and beach.   I stopped along the way only long enough to pick up a loaf of crusty bread from a bakery, and then on to the parking lot at the head of the beach.  With parking reserved primarily for town residents, I was grateful to be there early enough to get one of the handful of nearby parking spaces.  Before the sun broke the horizon, I was scuffing my way--the narrow webbing of my flop flops woven between my fingers--through the cool sand towards the large boulders at the far nothern end of this crescent-shaped piece of heaven on earth. 

Gulls swooped and called as I walked along the narrow wet strip at the water's edge deckled with foam where the soft lowtide ebb and flow brought in the treasures of the day....small pieces of shell and crab for the gulls, and "jewels" for me.  Sea glass....

I staked out my sarong-delineated square of paradise on the flat of a large boulder and surrounded myself with bread, water, journal, pencils, books and sky to watch the sun rise in the east.  Slowly she crested the edge of the earth.  I lay back on my scarf of soft blues and aquas mirroring the sky and a small cotton tide pool set in stone... and watched sea birds dip and soar above me.  

The sun rose in the east that morning as I read from my inspirational materials, drinking in spiritual truths that refreshed my resolve and reminded me that I was not alone in the new demands that were being placed on me.   But it was a gift from the sea that restored that piece of my heart I had long given up on.

I dozed, read and sketched through the sun’s journey across the sky.  It was late morning when I finally felt the need to stretch my legs with a good walk along the beach that was now scattered with children, sand castles and parents with blankets and beach chairs.  As I walked, I searched the sand for my favorite substances on earth....perfectly smooth stone spheres, eggs of alabaster, smoky sea glass in any shade of blue, aqua, lavender, white, brown, and worn shards of pottery washed up on the beach after years of being turned and tossed, roiled and churned by salt, water and sand.  Before long I had a small skirt full of treasures.  Good thing because at my height it is always a small skirt.  I took them back to my homesteaded square on the boulder to sort through.  Cloudy pieces of old coke bottles the color of my babies’ eyes or a robin's egg.  A piece or two of glass--the cobalt blue of an old Noxema jar...the kind my mother used when I was a girl—with sharp edges softened by years of being thrown down into the sand by the sea’s relentless demanding.  An old piece of pottery, perhaps the broken rim of a plate from a turn of the century ocean liner, with a thin line of dark green glaze barely visible along one curved edge.

I held each piece in my hand and stared out into the sea letting them tell me their stories.  And suddenly ...and I know this sounds "borderline"...I was a piece of beach glass with a story of my own... 

Yes, in my reverie I was a lovely bottle of champagne taken onto the deck of a gleaming brass-fitted, wooden-hulled yacht during an afternoon excursion in 1924.  I could hear the canvas sails slapping as the captain called, "coming about!" A  young woman with a girlish voice leaned against the rail while her beau poured from my neck the sparkling pale liquid with which I had been entrusted for years.  They were celebrating their engagement.  When the champagne was gone, he wrote a note proclaiming his fidelity and love for her.  He stuffed his promise in my neck, put a cork back in, and threw me overboard to bob and rise in the sea. 

Days went by until I fell upon misfortune and broke into a hundred pieces on a rock and the boy's note of love was lost.  I was tired, sharp, and cutting...angry that I had not been cherished, protected and cared for.  Hadn't I fulfilled my role as Bottle with honor and dignity...not a single drop of champagne had leaked out in all the years I was responsible for my cargo?  I had done nothing to deserve this shattering.  But here I was broken and sharp.  Year after year the sea would toss a sharp-edged piece of me onto a white beach in Cornwall or against a granite sea ledge in Norway,  on a sandy nook along the Mediterranean or the pink coral reefs of Belize.  But each time, a mother or a nanny would take me, with a soft, "Tsk, tsk," from the soft palms of a child.  Or pick me up from the foam and throw me as hard as she could back out to sea to be pounded into the ocean floor again and again. 

One day, just when I thought I couldn't take another moment, I was deposited onto a quiet crescent-shaped beach filled with mothers and children.  Lovers walked hand in hand and lonely pensive widows searched for memories.  I had long gven up hope that I would ever be deserving and ready..but I looked forward to these brief respites from the poiunding of the sea.  I knew that this peace wouldn't last for long, but I would enjoy the warmth of the sunshine for as long as I could.  I would let the softness of a child's touch remind me how it felt to be tenderly held by that new young bridegroom as he poured champagne for his beloved.  I was ready to have yet one more mother take me from her child's fingers and toss me as far out to sea as her strength would allow.

But this time was different.

A woman came by with long white hair, and eyes as blue as the sea.  She picked me up and rubbed me between her soft fingers.  She put me to her lips to drink the warmth of the sun from my touch.  And she put me in her pocket.  She was not afraid of the sharp edges that were no longer there.  She brought me to her grandchild and placed me in the little girl’s hand with such tenderness and awe that I felt beautiful again.   I would go on to live the rest of my time as a treasure, a jewel, a beloved gift.  I was no longer a dangerous, angry, sharp "something" to be tossed away....I was to be kept on a summer's altar of treasures.

"The gem cannot be polished without friction
nor man without trials."

With a gentle start, I was aware of feeling myself breathing again.  I was back on my scarf of blues and looking out to sea.  The sun was much further west in the sky.  The beach was quieter somehow.  I knew that my life's journey had been revealed, unveiled to me in new ways.  I no longer saw myself as the oldest child of eight who had struggled, made mistakes, had her heart broken, lost a child, and was shattered and sharp from those experiences.  I was a piece of sea glass...a treasure in the making.  Life would continue to throw me back into the roiling of the sea for softening until I, too, was the precious, softened, subdued, delighted-in woman of compassion and grace I was always intended to be.

"Trials are proofs of God's care."
-Mary Baker Eddy

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote....long after the sun lost its warmth...long after my loaf of bread was eaten and I was drawing my sarong around my shoulders to stave off the first whispers of late summer evening chill...I continued to write.  When I finally placed sketchbook, journal, sarong and books in my tote bag, I knew I was going back to my daughters and my life with a sense of purpose.  Life may still have had years of tossing me into the surf and beating me against the sand in store.  But if I could just treasure each brief moment when I found myself in the sun or being held by a child, I would eventually become a treasure meant for holding and keeping. 

As I drove home through the soft cobalt night air, taking back roads with the windows down and the sunroof open, I thought about my mother-in-law and the amazing gift she had given me of a day to be quiet and listen for my heart's story.  I thought about how she was like that grandma strolling on the beach who, finding me, knew that although I was still a bit sharp and needed to be tossed back to sea,  there would be a day when I would be a treasure she could give to her beloved grandchild. 

As I see 2006 draw to a close, I am grateful for her wisdom and her kindness.  There have been many years of tossing, roiling and churning...and I am starting to feel some softness.  From within the view is now a bit softer, and I wonder if I sometimes need these reading glasses because my surface is becoming cloudy...more ready for being treasured.  I hope so.

May the pounding surfs of 2006 be for you a journey towards realizing yourself as a treasure....hard surfaces softened with new compassion, sharp opinions ground away by experience, and any edginess that would cut away at your peace honed by love..

All my hopes and love go out to each of you as you glean the gifts of this past year....from the shores of your own heart…

"Divine Love is our hope, strength, and shield.
We have nothing to fear
when Love is at the helm of thought,
but everything to enjoy on earth and in heaven. "

-Mary Baker Eddy



  1. Carol Wagner2:08 PM

    Thank you, Kate. I have fowarded this lovely wisdom writing on to all my friends and patients. It will be a blessing to them all, no matter what their own particulars are.

  2. lovely, wise and vivid words, Kate!Thank you for sharing them.