“You turned your tears into a string of pearls,
you held your sorrow high to light the world when I thought I was alone.”
(You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGi7lcke1CA)
I climbed over a jetty, and somehow stumbled into yesterday. Hundreds of yesterdays. The familiar view of the fisherman's pier stirred memories that had been floating just beneath the surface in my heart for the past few days.
I look across the beach to “our” hotel, and I want my mom's familiar silhouette to be watching, waving from the second floor balcony window, her pastel cotton dress fluttering at her knees, and her white slip showing just a tiny bit. (When have I last thought about wearing a slip?) I have a clear view, but she's not there. And abruptly the view is not so clear.
Among the colorful umbrellas, I think I catch a glimpse of my dad in his red swim trunks and his “never, never wears shorts” white legs.
He's rocking the umbrella back and forth, back and forth, pouring water down the hole,
finding a way to make that pole secure and immovable in a breezy, shifting sand world.
It was what he did, he who would have preferred “the mountains” but trekked annually “to the ocean” with his beach loving family.
I remember the last year we considered it;
Mom was longing to see the ocean one more time, but her health was fragile and Dad's memory was fading in ways he saw perhaps more clearly than the rest of us. “We don't belong there,” he told her, so the reservations weren't made that winter for the coming summer season.
So, it's probably been seven years since I helped them carry the umbrella and the chairs and the family-famous Blue Bag down the hallway, through the room-keyed plate glass doors, past the pool, through the gate, down the steps, across the Boardwalk, and down the rough wooden stairway onto the hot sand.
Each year the procession moved more slowly, and my heart breaks at the memory of their careful steps, their flip-flops reserved for this occasion, their great effort to spend time with my family in this way.
Salty tears spill down my cheeks like a spray of ocean mist.
A wave of unfiltered grief hits me unaware.
I am awash in memories, clear and bittersweet...
and not just of my parents.
Two blonde headed memory ghosts are moving in a blur from sand to sea,
carrying buckets or dragging long handled, Grandpa-repaired shovels,
lugging body boards to sea's edge,
plunging in, over and over again.
If they are sitting still, they are eating, munching snacks from the limitless supply in the funny smelling Blue Bag.
Nearby, sand is flying from a hole the size of a Buick. Again.
Who is down there? I wonder. In every generation there has been a boy (or two)
who just wanted to Dig.a.Big.Hole.
and from another decade, a usually sober copper-topped boy is carried toward me on a tumblewhite wave, his head thrown back in unrestrained exuberance.
I've never seen him happier.
Wait, is he holding up his sandwich up to feed those pesky seagulls? Suddenly I can't quite see from here.
No, he's three weeks old and dozing on my mom's lap in umbrella shade. Or is that Oldest...
Back and forth, the memories spill over me, rolling me from one era of my life to another.
Again the scene shifts.
Knowing our time is almost over for another year, Mom and I are walking early, hunting shells. (Beachcombing at first light has always been the best...oh, the possibilities for lowtide treasures and shells.)
It's going to be a beautiful, blue-sky day, and it's the last summer I'm home, between high school and college and who knows what. Even then, I knew it was a bittersweet time for both of us.
“Let's get packing.”
He says, “I booked another night.”
Even now, as I remember,
I feel my heart lurch with unanticipated joy.
My mom and I are free to just keep walking. The tide is shifting, and the waves creep up on us.
I scramble back to avoid the cold rush,
but when I look to see if Mom got wet,
I see only my footprints.
Her hair is in her eyes. Her bathing suit is purple and so are her lips.
Oh. It's me, circa 11 years old.
I remember my mom retelling this incident often. “I looked up the beach as far as I could see, and down the beach as far as I could see. No one was in the water. Only one head bobbed in the waves.”
That would be me.
No body board,
just me and the sea,
out as far as I could be
and still touch the ocean floor between the swells...
rising on the crest of wave after wave was the closest thing to personal flight I've ever experienced.
So I watch that carefree girl and jump the memory waves with a smile and tears.
Seaweed has a root structure
known as a holdfast which connects it to the substrate, “the surface from which an organism lives and grows.”
I think of each memory as
a holdfast for my life,
a connection between
who I have been,
who I now am,
and who I am becoming.
I don't need to let go of these memories; in fact, I must not.
Oh. I cannot. They hold me.
When waves pound, when tides rise and threaten, when sand shifts and hurricanes assault, these haunting memories of joy and loss and hilarity and difficulty and ordinary life help me to holdfast, to stay connected to my own substrate. And they help to hold me fast, to give me the strength I need to be steadfast and faithful in the life I have been given.
So if your memory waves are splashing your soul with unexpected grief, soak in this gift and do not discard it. Let your tears become a string of pearls to bring beauty to your darkest moments. Let each memory be a holdfast that connects you to who you have been and who you are becoming.