Small gifts from the sea

28 03 2021

Like many of us, I have missed the pub, the picnics, the public gatherings and events that punctuated previous years. Nevertheless, there are some compensations for a year of social distancing. The beach has become my back yard, a place of reflection, imagination and connection.

On my beach walks I collect small treasures that have no worth to anyone but me: a few polished sea glass stones in greens and blues; an oyster shell; slender driftwood sculpted into suggestive shapes. I keep these treasures in a jar to look at while I wash the dishes. This small ritual creates a sense of space in a day where I am necessarily attached to a screen.

Because I haven’t been able to travel far, I have travelled small instead. Small things have always delighted me. As a child I used to take long meandering walks around the lanes and across fields, and collect things along the way. Insects, leaves, feathers. Small pieces of the outside that made me feel connected to the inside. Some leaves I held onto for years. Not long ago a found a dusty fragment from a tree of life I visited in an Arabian desert thirty years ago.

I am not systematic in my collecting or my classification. I often find things that seem significant, and then store them somewhere only to come across them unexpectedly. I enjoy the surprise this brings, the joy of rediscovering a mood, a feeling or a moment lost in time.

All life is made of such moments, of the smallest movements that link together to create a chain of being. When I look back over the past year, I see how richly textured it has been even in the bleakest moments. Under the surface of flatness, of sameness, of ordinary routine there have been moments of rare delight and connection.

The sea has been a constant in a turbulent year. Each day the sea offers something new and unexpected. A school of dolphins bouncing through sparkling waves; foam whipped dry by the wind; a pause by the steps to listen to a sea shanty spontaneously offered at the end of a dog walk. The sea keeps me going through difficult times. It reminds me that light and movement are constants of change as much as darkness and stagnation.

Sometimes it’s hard to see through the darkness. It’s hard to keep going when discouraged or disheartened by forces beyond your control. The sea is powerful and beside it I often feel small. Walking by the sea, I am reminded each time of how vulnerable we all are. The sea also, paradoxically, brings me a surge of strength to keep finding my way home.

Those times when I step onto an empty stretch of sand with my hound and find a space to breathe, those times are real and true and those times are when I feel a rising sense of hope.

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