Feet buried in the hot sand, the sun’s intense heat stinging my shoulders, I feel a slight breeze stirring Lake Michigan. It sends ripples of cool water rolling quietly towards my feet. Closing my eyes, I feel the heaviness of my heart.
I asked my mother once how she dealt with the mighty weight of family on her shoulders. “I select my memories carefully,” replied a woman grounded in faith, a woman who chooses to see light piercing even the blackest of skies. But it is more than selecting one’s memories. How does she do it?
Huddled in a ball on the sand, knees against my chin, arms wrapped tightly around my legs, I recall many glorious times with family. It is the more recent memories which cut my heart into tiny pieces of sadness. I feel as if the thread of family always running deep within me is unravelling. “I don’t know what to do,” I whisper to the lake.
Mesmerized by the slow, movement of the water, my thoughts begin drifting like a puff of cottonwood on the lake’s surface. Time disappears. After a while, I pull myself up and begin walking the beach as if in a trance. Pausing, I pick up a smooth, gray stone. This one is for me. Me, first. For until I learn to nourish me, to recharge my depleted energy, to care for my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, I am of little use to others.
A strong black stone is for my dad, sandy-white for mother, a soft pink and black blend for my sister, a dark gray marbled maroon for my brother. The stones are almost jumping into my hands. Before long I have collected stones for every member of my family. My husband’s I place in my pocket. The others I arrange neatly in a row parallel to the water.
Picking up my stone, I hold it next to my heart, intending to pray for an answer. Instead, I begin taking inventory of all my blessings, the talents I have been given, my health, my husband, my friends, my experiences, and my connection with God through Nature.
The picture of the aging pink Trillium with the dark green stripe of a virus floats across my mind. Yes, there is beauty in imperfection. Mine included. I pray for me, acknowledging my blemishes and ask that I might learn to love, accept, and forgive myself—just as I am. If I can do that, if I can silence the mean-spirited chatter I heave at myself, I believe I can love, accept, and forgive others.
Walking to water’s edge, I carefully drop my stone in the shallow waters washing over my feet.
I follow the same procedure with each stone representing family, caressing it next to my heart while reflecting on the joy that person has given me over my lifetime, the one characteristic I most admire, the distinguishing trait I’d like to learn from them. I pray for forgiveness for things I have done to cause hurt. And with great resolve, I forgive each person for any pain cutting through me. They, too, are not perfect. Love makes us vulnerable. Intentionally or unintentionally, hurt flows easily in all directions.
I drop the stone close to mine. And with each new stone I release into the lake, I notice the others have already begun drifting away. So it is with life.
I touch Rubin’s stone in my pocket, reflecting on his inner strength and beauty, sense of humor, unconditional love for me. I am tempted to carry it home for I cannot imagine life without him. But he, too, is a gift from the Universe to be cherished while we are both on this earth. Prayerfully I drop his stone in the lake, watching as it sinks into the sand before slowly drifting to deeper water.
Family is teaching me to do my best and then let go, to trust in a higher power. They are bringing me closer to God. And that, perhaps, is the greatest gift they can give me, the thing for which I should be most thankful. When I struggle with family, when I feel tormented by the past or overwhelmed with worries about the future, I must return to the lake. I must remember to drop stones.
The first stone, always, must be my own.
© 2013 Mary M. Schmidt
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