Take me to the water when I am wounded and weary.
Let peace fill my empty spaces and let the water cleanse my wounds.
May my soul connect with the sad and lonely who live beyond my gaze.
May their sorrow become my sorrow and my pain become their pain.
May the waves become one heartache that reverberates from shore to shore.
It was a few days after Christmas when my sister Mary, apparently sensing what I needed, called and asked me to go to the beach with her. My oldest child, Ben, had died 8 months earlier at the age of 27. His cancer was in remission when he died in a car accident. My heart was broken and my faith shaken. My husband and I and Ben’s younger brother and sister had slouched through Ben’s birthday on December 17, as well as Christmas, propping each other up as best as we could. I was hurting and exhausted. My mind had become my manic master, torturing me day after day. I looked outside and shivered to think of the cold awaiting me on the shores of Lake Erie, but the sun was bright and the sky was blue as tiny flakes of confetti floated in the snow globe beyond my window. I needed to be near the frigid water, to thaw my frozen heart. I agreed to go.
Mary and I trekked across the crunchy sand and parted without a word as we reached the listless waves. I wandered aimlessly along the shore, eventually inviting E. E. Cummings to walk along beside me. His voice was gentle as he recited a poem I had memorized when I was a shy teenager, “…. and May came home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone. For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea .” I was lost and I was as large as alone.
My eyes caught a glimmer of life on the ruddy sand. A milky piece of beach glass about the size of my thumbnail, shaped like a heart with the curve of one upper lobe missing. I massaged the smooth glass as I stared beyond the panorama of blue sky. There stood a woman on a distant shore somewhere in The Past, shrouded in grief like me, her black mass shivering. Her body strained within her shroud as she heaved a bottle into the waves. Somehow I was able to capture her prayer as it bounced along the waves:
“I, too, miss my son and my heart shall never mend. I send a message to you, whose heart is just as mine… May a little piece of this ‘whole’ wash upon the sand. And may it lie in wait until hope finds its home, within your desperate hand.”
I kneaded the glass heart as questions filled my mind. How do I put together the pieces of my heart that has been crumbled by the Hands of Death? Will I ever take a breath without the razor edges of my heart slicing open a fresh, raw wound? Can beauty ever be found among the broken pieces?
I turned to search for Mary, who I spotted in the distance walking toward me. Will the abrasive sands of time eventually smooth and soften the jagged edges of my heart? When will the waves that continue to suck me under and ravage my aching soul release me and allow me to lay upon the gentle shore with my face turned toward the sun? I smiled as I showed Mary the smooth, broken heart lying in my open palm.
I slipped that war-weary heart into my pocket. Thanks for your message of hope, I whispered to the grief-stricken mama on the distant shore. I, like you, miss my son with every breath I take.