Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The tide tugs gently at my bare feet and nudges a crescent marking of white onto the sand. Then, like an immense exhalation, it swirls away seaward, leaving a sparkling trail of sediment in its wake—particles of red and silver stone, ground into minutiae by the ceaseless motion of water over time. Almost immediately, another surge of foam spreads inward, creeping higher on the slight rise of the beach. In its path, the rolling limbs of small dismembered sea creatures, the delicate purple pouf of a lifeless jelly fish, fragmented empty shell bits.

From my perch on this rock, I observe the endless cycle of the sea all around me--the bringing in and the taking away. I watch intently as transparent shrimp-shaped sand creatures scrabble for cover as the water streams in rivulets back to the ocean, as sharp-billed birds plunge into the whitecaps a short distance away, as grey-green crabs dig frantically into the mud, miniscule legs flailing. And yet, all around me too is the pungent scent of death. The sand is heaped with coils of corrugated sea plants, littered with spiny carcasses of fish, the grey twisted shapes of driftwood, the skeletal remains of a thousand life forms. How fragile life seems here. How painfully cyclical this restless churning of the sea.

I wonder if my mother sat here. She has visited these shores before and loved this place as I do. I wonder if she wandered here with my father, picking up and turning over small finds in her hand, resting her back on these sun-warmed rocks, marveling at the vastness of the sky, the majesty of this coastline, these silken sands. As always, the thought of her takes my breath away. As always, I am seized by the familiar, aching knowledge that she is gone.

The ring I wear on my finger is Celtic, the designs symbolic of water and the Earth. I wear it in her memory. The memory of her love. Her heritage. The savage beauty of the island country she came from. Her soft accent, her skillful hands, her gentleness. I cast around me for some small sense that she is near, but there is nothing. Only the restless, churning sea. The sea and its cycle.

Three small figures appear on rocks in the distance along the beach. I observe the meandering approach of my children, listening as their voices carry clearly across the water. As they draw nearer, each step brings their faces more sharply into focus. And then suddenly, with startling intensity, I see my mother's features etched here before me, illuminated in the soft glow of the late afternoon sun--the precise arch of a brow here, the gentle sweep of eyelash there, the sweetness in the curve of a lip, the fairness in a windblown strand of hair. A crystalline moment, frozen in all dimension, excruciatingly familiar, bittersweet in memory, and painfully, joyfully real. Unbidden, the words of a song I once knew spring into my consciousness. A song of sorrow, Gaelic in its roots, with a haunting refrain that repeats itself over and over "Do I see the last light of the sun going down or do I see the first light of a brand new day?"

The moment passes as suddenly as it came and a cool breeze comes rippling in across the water. The tide is high and my children run ahead to the opening in the trees that leads from the sand to the forest trail above. I follow and as I reach the tall pines, I turn, alone, and look behind me to the glittering trail of light that stretches towards me across the surface of the water, the first foreshadowing of the evening to come. Then, with the sound of the retreating surf in my ears, I turn and head up the path, smiling to myself at her nearness and how she has, in her own quiet way, reached out and touched me in passing.