Write On!

A Survivor’s Song

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2012 at 8:14 pm

by Tara Wiley

The sea rolled and swayed in slow, melancholy waves with little foam that day. Celie’s meandering pace along the shoreline matched the steady rhythm, the softer sounds of evening tide’s approaching. Though dolphins played just a stone’s throw offshore, their sleek grey backs dipping above and below the surface like shimmering mirages, she did not see them or the waves in which they danced. Her gaze was fixed downward beneath her wide-brimmed straw hat. Her deepest focus was not on her surroundings, but on her heart, as unsteady and changing as the ocean itself, and just as great a mystery.

She had taken to these evening walks a month after it began. Her doctor had said some fresh air would do her good, and the beach seemed the natural place to follow those orders. She grew up walking along this shore, but somehow as the years’ calendars grew more full, her visits here became more infrequent, until she hardly remembered what sand felt like between her toes. Coming back was like a return to a simpler time, and wasn’t that what she needed? A little simplicity? The attacks were so… unsettling.

After a week of wandering along the shore uncertainly, she discovered a piece of sea glass nestled in the sand at her feet. It was a soft pinkish blue, rare, she knew. She rinsed the sand from it in a tidal pool, and had carried it with her ever since. She wondered about its beginnings, and imagined it to be part of a perfume bottle from the Titanic wreckage, working its way over a century and an endless stretch of Atlantic to reach this shore at this moment in time, just for her. In her mind’s eye, a wealthy woman crouched in a lifeboat, wearing as many layers of clothing as she could fit on her body. The woman looked more like an overstuffed sofa than the genteel lady she was, the clothing the only belongings she could take with her. The woman lost everything else, including that precious bottle of perfume from her lover in Europe, and arrived in the US smelling of salt and tears rather than flowers and exotic spice.

Celie felt the slipping, tipping ship under her own skin, the losing, the sinking, the disappearing. She held the piece of glass near as a talisman, a harbinger of hope and recovered life. Somewhere deep within her lay the treasure store held inside the wreckage, and this glass had made its way out to remind her it was still there, worth holding out for and holding on to.

The fresh air walks now held purpose as a search for sea glass. She had only found two more pieces, and they were barely worth keeping, plain and clear, but she held onto them anyway. Sometimes the plain, clear things of life are the unexpected, hard-won treasures.

She began to walk in the early mornings, too, before work. Then, she added her lunch breaks, until finally every moment outside of her office cubicle or doctor’s appointments or the night hours of restless sleep at home was spent combing the sand. A desperation began to grow in her. There was something else to be found. She couldn’t place her finger on it, but knew she would find it here in the sand.

The attacks became more frequent. They peppered her walks with dark splotches of uncertain time. She paused until they passed, then continued on, insistent. Up to this day.

She felt one coming on, just at the corner of her consciousness. At the same moment, she saw the first egg. Bold, yellow, plastic, out of place in this hidden sandy cove. She reached over to pick it up. The attack roared forward as she leaned down, then retreated momentarily as childhood memories of Easter egg hunts tugged a smile from her mouth. She instinctively salivated remembering the chocolate and candy. Just ahead lay another egg, pink this time. She went to it, saw another, and followed the trail, a woman on the hunt for Gretel. And Gretel, she found.

Strawberry blonde plaited hair hung midway down the girl’s sun-browned back as she crouched in the sand. She seemed not to notice Celie standing before her as she used the little plastic eggs to make small sandcastles. The child was as oblivious to her surroundings as Celie had been moments earlier. She was singing, repeating a little phrase, and as Celie drew nearer, she discovered she knew the words – they were straight from Scripture.

Many are the plans in the mind of man

But it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand

 

“Little girl,” Celie prodded gently. “Who are you? Why are you here? Are you with someone, or lost?” The child looked up, and the cherubic face with  crystalline green eyes seemed familiar, yet too perfect, somehow.

“Oh! You found my other eggs, thank you,” sang the little one, ignoring Celie’s inquiries completely, but gratefully taking the plastic eggs that filled Celie’s hands, placing them in a gaudy plastic pink basket at her side. She then looked down again, and continued to make her little mounds in the sand, returning to her song, but with different words. The words again sounded like Scripture, but not one Celie could place in her mind –

When seventy years have been completed for Babylon,

I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you,

to bring you back to this place.

 

Back to this place. The phrase sent chills down Celie’s spine. She had come back this place, this reminder of her own childhood. Why? To what end?

When Celie made it back home that night, she did an online search for the Scripture and found it nestled among much more familiar verses:

 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” Jeremiah 29:10-14

In all her years of reciting Jeremiah 29:11, how had she missed that it came as an encouragement to God’s people during a time of exile, pain, loss? To Celie, it had seemed to be a verse offering the promise of the good life. Indeed, it was a promise Celie had come to resent over recent months. Increased pain led to foundered faith. Her journey was not working out the way she expected it to, and as the splinters of the shipwreck became wedged into her heart, her irritation with this promising God grew.

And now, in this moment, in this passage of Scripture brought to her by the mouth of a strange little girl on a beach she rarely traversed until recently – until this season of pain grew unbearable – something inside of her turned.

She undressed in a daze, found her way into her bed, and before turning off the lamp, she fingered the beach glass on her bedside table. She laughed to herself about her silly fantasy, the Titanic relic she claimed it to be, but it gave her pause tonight. That woman in her daydream went on board expecting one journey, and though she found her way home, it was not as she planned. Yet, she was a survivor.

For the first time in a long time, Celie drifted to sleep with a prayer on her lips, and her sleep was sound and sweet. When she walked the beach the next morning, she noticed the dolphins in the waves.

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  1. Beautiful! Love it so much!

  2. Bear, this is hauntingly beautiful. The best I’ve seen you write on this new journey. You know, the sea calls out the best in you (as if we didn’t know that already). …. just leaves me pondering…………………

  3. and very truly………I love to watch you write……….<3

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