Yesterday my family and I decided to take a walk to the beach, something we have not done at all this summer even though we live within walking distance. Neither Samantha, nor I, are “beach people” – we like the idea of being near the water but find the annoyances; sand everywhere, the not quite pure nature of Long Island sound etc. of beach days outweigh the joys. When Sam and I purchased our home almost ten years ago we figured we would go to the beach all the time and if nothing else, enjoy the sites, sounds and majesty that our shores provide on an almost daily basis. We figured the proximity of the beach would transform us into beach bums who would idle away their summer break on Long Island’s north shore. Sadly history has proven otherwise, as I can count on my digits (toes included) the number of times we have made the short stroll to our beach.
The relative lack of excursions to the beach means that I can recount nearly every trip we made down there, with one trip in particular standing out: the walk I took alone after Rees died. As I reflect on that particular journey it seems as though I can recall every step, smell, sight and sound from the entire trek with indelible accuracy. I also acutely recall all the people I saw down at the beach who were no doubt there to survey the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. I remember feeling a sense of irony from the site of the peaceful and serene waters which belied the reality of the turbulence and thunderous force of those very waters that crashed upon these shores merely hours earlier. I expected to see a boiling, angry sea that reflected my emotional state after my own personal storm, only to be met with serenity and peace – a state I had not yet even begun to fathom possible for myself. I recollect the people walking down the beach making the same observations about the logic defying current conditions, but also pointing out all the changes to the beach that only someone with intimate knowledge of its condition prior to the storm would recognize. I realized that since I lacked a prior frame of reference about the beach’s condition before the storm I could not possibly see the damage that was so obvious to them – and in that instant it hit me that every single person there could not recognize the damage done to me for those very same reasons.
I walked farther down the beach that day than I had ever attempted before, kicking stones and tossing rocks into the sea as I meandered along its shores. I remember seeing some larger stones, wondering if they had the mass to overcome my buoyancy, and thinking that perhaps I could just take one with me out into the sea allowing myself to experience death the way my little boy did and ending my pain in the process. The thought was fleeting and seemed almost prescient; a way to make a final connection with my boy and allowing me to be with him again. As I continued to walk that thought eventually ebbed away like the receding tides lapping the shore I traversed. Just as the receding waters of the outgoing tide reveal a previously unseen beach beneath them, I began to visualize my importance in the lives of my family. Thoughts of ending my pain gave way to the reality that my family needed me and I eventually returned home.
Yesterday’s walk marked my first trip back down to the beach since that day. Throughout my journey I found myself comparing this walk with my previous one , using my acute recollection of the previous walk as a frame of reference to see the differences in not only the condition of the beach, that I was unable to notice in previous journeys, but the condition of my soul. During our long walk along the beach, the longest I ever took, I attempted to ascertain how far my own recovery from my personal superstorm had come. In my mind’s eye, I knew that I was in a better, more peaceful, place than my prior walk but I struggled with putting a definitive stamp that I could quantify on it. It was not until we arrived home that I had my answer: Beach glass. As I walked yesterday, instead of kicking stones, I stopped to pick up the pieces of beach glass I saw glistening in the sun. Beach glass; pieces of shattered glass that unlike freshly shattered glass is rounded and smooth.
One never hears stories of people collecting shattered glass for a very specific reason: Shattered glass represents the dangerous, sharp, potentially deadly remnants of something that once served a useful purpose. In many ways, shattered glass is a metaphor for death: The broken remains of something that can never be put back together again – its only purpose to act as a dangerous reminder of what once was. Beach glass, on the other hand, represents something entirely different: hope for life renewed in another form. Beach glass can only come from pieces of shattered glass that undergo a metamorphosis caused by inadvertent action of the roiling sea. With the inevetable ebb and flow of the tides, the pieces of shattered glass along the shores are transformed into something new. The pieces of glass will never again be what they once were, yet that does not matter, as each fragment is now its own individual whole of something different and beautiful – a softer, delicate reminder of what once was now existing in a new form. As I watched my daughters sift through the pieces of glass we collected yesterday I realized that they represent the perfect metaphor for my soul: a shattered whole whose pieces will never be put back together yet with the proper conditions can become something new and just as beautiful. It was at that moment that I realized it represents Rees, whose physical form is no longer with us, but whose pieces are the beach glass of my world. Rees is no longer here in the form in which he was forged, but his spirit remains. As I continue my journey down life’s shores I now know to stop and look for those pieces of beach glass. I will never have the whole again, but the more I take the time to look, I can always find Rees’ pieces.