Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sea Glass

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 Massachusetts who have been especially kind to me lately. I tell them that I want to bring these friends some little bits of Maine. 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.

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. 


  1. As a mom of a toddler myself, I've learned to love the "extras" that he brings to me, regardless if I asked for it or not. His view of the world is just as important as mine! And sometimes his shines more bright than mine! New follower from vb...my dad and mother-in-law are both adopted. Thank you for making your blog all about it!

  2. It's so true! Things you wouldn't have picked to have happen in your life make the most amazing impact on the "bigger picture." :-)

  3. What a gorgeous piece! I have learned to go with the messiness and unplanned parts of my life too. They are the most beautiful and do have surprising gems, maybe far from what you were looking for but even more special than you could ever imagine! Thanks again, I always get so much from you posts!!

  4. CherylfromOntheOldPathOctober 25, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    What a wonderful post. We have had a painful year and a half, and I can not say it is better than I could have imagined yet, like that sea glass it has shaped us into the people we are today and although I would never have picked our path I am thankful for the smoothing out that the crashing waves created.

  5. I loved your post! I am a huge collector of sea glass-learned from my mother-and have passed this passion along to my children. I love the idea of really paying attention, being in the moment, and looking for small bits of beauty. Thanks for the jewelery link, too! Visiting from Vb. http://mamawolfe-living.blogspot.com/2011/10/friday-blog-hop-getting-to-know-you.html

  6. This is a beautiful post, Rebecca. My late MIL introduced me to sea glass in her beloved Rockport, and some of my fondest vacation memories are of combing the beach for it with her and my then-toddler and pre-schooler.

    It also resonates because it reminds me to appreciate the gift that is placed in my hand, even though it may be different than what I thought I wanted.

  7. I love this. I'm glad you came into my life with it tonight.

  8. I love this. I'm glad you came into my life with it tonight.

  9. Thank you all for your comments. Each one is a gem! :-)

  10. ericaljohnson1980June 20, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    I don't know how I missed this post, but it was amazing! Funny thing, I love sea glass! When Asley was little, I had a kitchen table I had painted and decorated with my collection of sea glass. The blues have always been my favorite, and I share your desire for the "perfect" ones, but regardless, I love each piece. This is such a great interpretation of life! Love ya

  11. Thanks! She had enjoyed collecting sea glass when we are in Maine! :-)


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