We spent one last day on the beach in Grand Riviere, a small town tucked in between the jungle and the ocean on the northeast coast of Trinidad. The turtles had all made their way back to the sea by the time the hot Caribbean sun had creeped its way back up to the top of the sky. Leaving bird shaped footprints, we walked along the crushed rubbery egg shells that couldn’t find their way down into their sandy nests. Some of them met their demise by the hungry waiting vultures and dogs. One little pile seemed to have been crushed by the very mama turtle that was laying them; she seemed to be in a hurry, competing for time with the rising sun and her date with the wide open ocean, laying her eggs in a hastily made , too close to the shore, too rocky nest that kept collapsing on itself.
We met a man on the beach that day. He looked out of place wearing long pants and a long sleeved windbreaker on such a hot day. He freaked out Nicole and her friends, who thought he looked like a thief. (Good instincts on that girl, apparently) He wandered around, one hand in the pocket of his beige windbreaker, the other one poised, ready to greet any passersby who had the time or inclination to shake it. His eagerness to make friends shone like a glaring light, which made you not want to look straight at it. As I saw the hand coming towards me, I couldn’t do anything but put mine out and shake it. After introductions were made, I was pleasantly surprised at his humble forthrightness and grace. He told me how grateful he was to be living out in the country. How beautiful it was there, the landscape and the people. How, despite the fact that he had no family or education, and not much money, he was so grateful to be in this moment, away from his former life in the city. As he spoke, I found no reason to doubt his gratitude. He was so happy to have lifted himself out of a life of drug addiction which led him to a life of thievery, which led him to, as he pulled his stump out of his other pocket, this. His arm ended right at the bottom of his ulna and radius. And his face ended in a smile that invited the sunlight in.
When things in life go missing, they don’t come back. At least not in the same form. The fact that we wake up each day and everything, including us, is older, bigger in some spots, smaller in others, and just plain different than it was yesterday, requires a constant shift in our perspective. There is a lot of work that needs to happen before we can be at peace with the crushed shell, the handless stump, the nests we build that collapse on themselves despite our earnestness in the making of them, the loss of a person, an opportunity, or time. The turtle who crushed her precious eggs with the pressure of her own tremendous heft, and the man who lost his hand by his own actions both managed to keep on moving forward with inspiring determination and dignity. Their inspiration leaves me remembering it is so much about taking responsibility for the choices we make at every moment. And forgiving ourselves when we dig in the wrong hole or invest in a nest that can’t support itself or make choices that in retrospect are not quite right. And then keep on moving and growing, because we don’t have time to wallow or lolligag. Going to the sea? Keep on going, girl.
I woke up this week and realized I was still an art teacher. It was a bit of a shock, seeing as how I went into this gig eighteen years ago, or yesterday, as something to do “for a little while.” And here I am almost two decades later, in a little nest I didn’t quite plan on being in for so long. I was told this week that I only seemed to like the fun parts of my job. At first I was taken aback. Insulted even. I began to judge myself and maybe even wallow a bit in it. I tucked the feedback into the back of my mind and headed for the classroom, to dutifully catch up on paperwork. When a fifth grader poked her head in and asked me a hypothetical question. “Is it possible to plaster one’s tongue?” I looked up from my pile of papers, and shook my head no, like a good teacher. I resumed staring at the computer screen giving children numbers to correspond with their art class behavior, for about a minute. “Wait,” I said, as the inquisitive fifth grader shuffled disappointedly down the hall, “nothing is impossible.” Putting my unfinished paperwork aside, I took out the plaster.
We had so much more fun than shuffling disappointed feet down a hallway or shuffling papers on a desk.
Okay, so maybe I do like the fun parts of my job a bit too much. It helps make the unplanned-but-here-I- am nest a bit more like home to me.
Do we always have to sit when the sign tells us to sit? Even if we wrote it on our wall?
Maybe we can fly right over the ocean like the pelicans do, even if our wings are not quite perfectly suited for the task. How do we gauge, as the pelican’s so gracefully do, if our desire to fly over the deep waters is greater than our fear of falling straight in?
We may be sleeping when our boat comes in.
That doesn’t mean we can’t wake up with a good cold splash,
break a wave,
and ride it straight to new and exciting shores.
Sometimes, I suppose, it is a matter of looking at things from a new perspective.
or welcoming the surprises that crawl into our lives, with an open hand.
There are times when hiding in the closet
or the banana grove, can be comforting, and dare I say it, fun.
It is also important to keep the bigger picture in mind,
to take in the vast views life has to offer. From up high and
deep below the surface of the earth.
If you keep looking up,
When he was five and six, for two entire years Elias held out his chubby little boy hand and gave me a rock every day. He called it my rock of the day. We had shelves in the kitchen lined up with these special rocks. They could also be found on window sills, my classroom desk, and in the bottom of purses and backpacks. Ten years have passed since I had gotten a rock of the day. I thought it was a tradition to which I had bid a sweet farewell. Last week, he handed me a beautiful rock he found on the beach. “Here Mom, here is your rock of the day,” he said his deep sixteen year old voice.
In this world of scarcity thinking, of never having enough or the best or the most,
is more than
“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
— Isaac Asimov
(A whole-hearted thank you to Elizabeth Bissell, for all the late night chats by the pool and the long walks and runs through the jungles and beaches this past week and for the fresh breath of Vermont you brought to our household.)