Monday, May 20, 2013 (Alex 7, Ana 3)

Dear Alex,

A few weeks ago, you came down with walking pneumonia.  It was the week of Dad’s 40th birthday and we had plans to go to the beach that weekend.  We were going to cancel but after several days on the antibiotic you were acting like your normal self and by the morning we had planned to leave, you were begging to kick the soccer ball around the yard.  So we headed to Wrightsville Beach that afternoon.

The next day you sprinted down the shore while we walked to the far end of the island overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.  There was a string of tidal pools and stretches of sand with no one in sight.  It felt like our own private sanctuary and you and Ana played and explored until Ana grew cold and tired.

Dad carried Ana as we headed back to where we had set up our blanket.  They got ahead of us because you were busy combing the beach for seashells—something I had always loved to do.  I told you about the first time I was on an island in South Carolina and found a handful of unbroken sand dollars.  “Finding them among all the broken shells was like hitting the jackpot,” I said.

So you started referring to sand dollars as jackpots and it became your quest that day to find a perfect, whole one.  As we walked along, I pointed out pieces and you quickly scooped them up and put them in your pail.  Later, when Ana fell asleep under the umbrella, you asked if we could go looking for jackpots.  Dad was happy to stay behind and read a book, so we set out in the opposite direction we’d been before, hoping to have better luck.

The tide had deposited a fresh band of shells as it began to recede and you walked along slowly hunting.  It was late afternoon—my favorite time of day to walk the beach.  The sun was less intense and fewer people dotted the shore.  It had been years since we’d been to the ocean and walking along its edge felt like walking beside an old and sorely missed friend.

I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and seeing only sky and water, hearing the waves roll in and feeling the cool water rush over my feet brought me back to my childhood.  I don’t talk much about my youth to you other than telling funny stories that upon your request never involve me getting harmed or in trouble.  And though I have some happy memories as a child, the lasting feelings have been of hurt and loss and brokenness.  So I walked with the heaviness of these emotions surprised they caught up with me again on a beautiful afternoon at the beach and wondering if I would ever escape them for good—if I would ever feel whole.

You were lagging behind still intent in your search to find a complete sand dollar.  But all you could find were pieces.  You were picking them up one by one, your hands now full of bone-white shards.  You noticed that I had overlooked them as I walked on ahead.  “Mom you missed all these,” you called.

“I thought we were looking for the jackpot,” I answered.

“The broken ones are special too,” you said grabbing another.

So you kept gathering bits in our hunt for the jackpot, a whole and perfect sand dollar.  But we never did find one.  All we had at the end of our search was a large collection of fragments.  It was hard not to feel disappointed but as you looked them over, I could see you were content.  “These are great,” you marveled, holding up each one.  “I’m definitely keeping all of them.”

I thought of my brokenness again and how over the years I’ve been picking up the pieces while still searching for some perfect, complete me.  But I could never find it.  Watching your joy over your bounty, I could see the beauty in that pile of shards.  It left me wondering if maybe I’ve been so lost in my search for wholeness, I’ve failed to see it’s already there in the pieces.

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