A few days ago, Erica wrote the following in a post about her toddler: "Tornado Tyler has taught me life doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would, it can be better than you ever imagined." That put me in mind of something I wrote some years ago. Actually, I wrote it when I myself was the mother of a toddler, and though my daughter doesn't appear in the piece, the messiness and unpredictability that swirl around young children were certainly a part of my life at that time. On the surface, the piece is about sea glass, bits of broken glass that have been transformed by the motion of the sea and the friction of tumbling rocks into soft, translucent gems:
But on a deeper level it is about accepting the messiness and unpredictability of life. Here is the piece:
I sit on the pebbly part of the town beach at the end of the shore path, combing my hands through the damp loose stones looking for sea glass. I am looking for blue pieces, of course, but they are too rare and I’m not having any luck. I don’t want to go home empty handed, so I begin to gather the white, the brown, the green. I study the subtleties of each piece. I look at them the way some people must look at diamonds, noticing the unique way the light shines through each one. I am a connoisseur of sea glass. I rub my fingers over the edges, judging. Is it soft enough? Is it ready for plucking, or does it need more time with the sea?
Two children, a boy and a girl, about 10 years old, possibly twins, begin to hover nearby. They pat my dog, then stand, unselfconsciously, as 10-year-olds will do, watching, waiting for me to take the lead. I explain to them that I am looking for sea glass for two friends from
who have been especially kind to me lately. I tell them that I want to bring these
friends some little bits of Massachusetts .
I don’t know if they understand the last part or not, but they don’t question
it. They sense that an important mission is at hand. Without a word, they begin
to help. The girl, whose name I eventually learn is Krista, works beside me,
putting the pieces in my hand one by one as she finds them. The boy, Cain,
works a wider territory, wandering off on his own, returning periodically with
his finds. We work quietly, with reverence almost, with only an occasional
comment about the beauty or uniqueness of a particular piece. It feels almost
as though the three of us are participants in some sacred ceremony. Maine
The children do not adhere to my standards for the sea glass, and soon they are also adding small rock, shells, and even pieces of shell. My first impulse is to protest. “No, that’s not what I’m looking for.” But instead I relax. I decide to accept whatever gifts they have to give. I watch as the mixture in my hand grows increasingly messier, and richer. When my cupped hand is full, I tell them it’s time for me to go. I say my goodbyes, thank them for their help, and slip the collection into my jacket pocket. As I walk away, I look back at Krista and Cain. They sit, heads close together, still sifting through the rocks.
It's interesting to me to look back on this piece. It had been on my mind, even before Erica wrote that line about Tyler, because my friend Maureen recently started making and selling sea-glass jewelry:
The images in this post were taken, with her permission, from her facebook page Tidal Gems.
Maureen and I met in a prenatal exercise class when we were both pregnant with our first children. Now our kids are close in age to the two children in the story above. A lot has happened in the intervening years. Things have come into our lives that we would not have chosen or hand-picked, include a painful divorce on my part and an unexpected job loss on hers. Like me, Maureen is a "connoisseur of sea glass." She selects the most beautiful "gems" for her creations and even finds the occasional coveted blue piece:
But when it comes to life, I suspect that neither of us would exchange the crazy, messy, beautiful jumble we've ended up with for anything different. Krista and Cain, two 10-year-olds who came into my life for a few moments one afternoon in Maine, taught me that sometimes you go looking for one thing and find something that is unexpectedly better. Or, as Erica put it, though life doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would, it can be better than you ever imagined. It's the simplest of lessons, but one that continues to resonate for me all these years later.