Updated: Mar 29, 2020
(with a tip o' the pen to Wislawa Szymborska's poem 'Consolation')
I went to the beach yesterday, to gather stones to give away at a funeral service. I live inland and it is a long drive, an effort, a labor of love. At the point in the road where the sky changes I opened the window to breathe in the salt air, my whole body excited by the change in atmosphere.
I went to the beach yesterday and sat at the bottom of the stairs that bring you from the top of the dune to the sandy shoreline. I sat with my hands in my lap, weeping, hoping no one walking by would notice the sloppy ragged tears. Digging my toes into the sand like a four year old, bereft and heartbroken. The seagulls stared and kept their distance. The waves continued to curl gently to shore. Finally the sorrow was spent and I could go searching for stones.
I went to the beach yesterday and found the long-dead fleshless carcass of a giant sea turtle that gave me two bones. Later I found a cache of ancient whelk shells wedged by a recent storm into nooks and crannies in the breakwater, one of them hardly damaged and bigger than my hand. A tennis ball waited in the dry seaweed at the high tide line, a tease for the next dog to come along and give it purpose. And a matchbox race car sat stalled in the sand. There was a delicate feather with unusual black and white markings, I put it carefully in a pocket but when I looked later it had flown off again.
The stones that came to hand have edges and imperfections. Some of them shimmer. Even the small ones have a way of sitting in your palm or between your fingers with gravitas. This is how I choose them, the ones that have a weight that feels right in my hand are the ones given a place in my pockets. I am choosy, many are touched and left. My vest gets damp and the pockets are bulging and lumpy by the time I limp back towards the car.
I use my cane at the beach to help me along, to poke at things that I may not want to touch, leaning hard to bend and rise again when I find something interesting. I leave a trail of tripod tracks in the sand, two bare feet and a peg hole from the cane. A skilled tracker would tell you this person is foraging, is lame, and won't get far without resting. I sit again at the bottom of the stairs to watch the sea, and the day, and for the comfort of wiggling my toes some more in the sand. I am done throwing cups of sorrow into the ocean, reassured by the sea gifts, shell and bone and stone. Slightly mended. Ready to turn towards home again.