A halcyon sunny 60 degree day at a New England beach in February is a rare gift. Especially after voluminous mounds of snow have increased weight to our lives, in particular, to our roofs, just like comfort food has done to our bodies. This winter, there’s been almost five feet of snow and we’re living in giant igloos fortress-ed with dazzling crystal spears dangling from ledges. Snow has its own allure, sparkling with sunlight, moonlight, and starlight, soft and cleansing for the earth and for our slowed down times. And yet I agree that snow is also what Phil James’ satirical Eskimo word says it is: chachat: swirling snow that drives you nuts! But this particular day, we bask in balmy weather and the heaps of snow that are gray and thinning are combed to the sides of our lives.
I walk the beach with my husband as we celebrate twenty-seven years of marriage. The February of our wedding vows was unseasonably warm, too,and thus we felt the smile of heaven. I have relative peace, but there is something frozen within me tucked way in the back of my life. Like winter lingering there. It’s not just bad memories that have been crushed, compacted, and dumped into the landfill of my mind. And it isn’t my marriage, for we are still in love. What is it? I think it’s that perennial human question mark that folds up into a ball and rolls through the days. It becomes large with gathering the whys of life. From time to time, I unfold this heavy question mark and it becomes a labyrinth that I walk through and find my way to the center, to the dot at the end of the question. I walk it alone and back out again, carrying hope with me…that center, that dot.
It’s so warm on the beach that we take off our heavy coats and hang them on tall driftwood. We walk a mile or so and keep turning to see if our coats are still there. We laugh because they look like two shabby people. We have shed our old winter selves and suddenly feel free and unencumbered. Alas, we know we’ll have to return to those old coats and to more of ole man winter. But for now, we become children again and play on the beach. The lavender gray sea gently caresses the shore and massages our winter places. And I begin to treasure hunt for whole sand dollars. My daughter and I would often go to this same beach and collect them, unbroken with an imprint of a gleaming star. But they’re hard to find now. I imagine the winter storms have really caused the exoskeletons to break apart. I decide to pick up all the broken ones to make a whole one out of them when I get home. I lose myself in gathering a pocketful of pieces of sand dollars, but I’m still looking for that perfect, unbroken one. I quietly ask the Sea-King Poseidon and his queen Amphitrite to please let me find a whole sand dollar on this special anniversary day. Time goes by and we have to leave, but I linger, determined. And then I see a small, magical, whole sand dollar and call out with excitement that I found one! I take this treasure, the hardy and intact sand dollar, and all the broken pieces home. I arrange them on construction paper and place the whole sand dollar in the center, for it is only natural to do so.
The center, locus, heart, pith, essence…my question mark dot that is my
sanctuary of hope. There it is, star-lit and strong, having survived the
winter storms, imperishable and complete. All around it are the sandy broken pieces, my icy, winter memories, my flaws, and all my whys. Call me sappy…these fragments make for a harmonious picture of my life.