Thousands of Words

For many of us there is something supremely healing being in the presence of the ocean. It may be the color, the light. Or the sound of the waves and gulls. Or the briny smell and salty taste of the water. For me, it was never about the sand!!

My grandfather lived across the street from the ocean in Florida.  Every visit there was a re-acquaintance with something in Nature I couldn’t have anywhere else except by the ocean. The ocean always brought comfort and a kind of healing. The world slowed down along the edge of the beach. Worries seemed to get washed out to sea as the waves came and went. It has been the same for every ocean I have stood next to or swum in. It heals.seaweed

The walks along the beach always gifted treasures. Broken shells. Maybe a whole shell! A small, asymmetrical piece of sea glass…worn smooth from the power of the sea. Maybe a “mermaids purse”. Alien looking pieces of seaweed.  Perhaps a withered Man-O-War. A little crab claw. Sometimes the sand itself was the treasure. A myriad of sparkles and color….minute pieces of minerals, quartz, rock, shell and coral skeletons.

“Breakage”
by Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk, the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels, moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse of little words, thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself, the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

tidal-pool

As Mary Oliver said, each gift, each small–each broken miracle of  treasure from the vast, moving, living ocean, was like discovering a new word. A piece to the puzzle of the language of the ocean. Of Nature. Of Life. Collections of whole and broken parts from the ocean, told a story. You could read in the brokenness, the color, the bleached out parts, the smoothed edges, the Story that only those pieces together could tell.

There is nothing in the whole world that is any different. There are broken pieces everywhere that, when put together, allow us to read the Story….. But brokenness isn’t always comfortable, it isn’t always pretty. It might hurt to know the beauty of the wholeness that was or could have been. There is so much we are blind and deaf to. So much we try not to touch or feel, smell or taste. We turn away.

“That smells fishy.” “Turn a blind eye.”  “Rough around the edges.” “That’s a bitter pill to swallow.” “That just falls on deaf ears.”

Every  broken part. Every completed whole. Everything we happen upon, every person we meet, every rain drop that falls, each sunrise we witness, is a new word in the language of Life. Each conflict, each treaty, the hate and fear, each love story. The woman with acid burns on her face, the crying child bleeding after FGM, the crumbling shell of Aleppo, the flooding streets of Miami, the parched land on fire. The protest chant, the psalm being sung. Parts of the Story….a wondrous Story. A titan of a Story.

Each experience we allow, acknowledge and process, each person we meet the eyes of, each story we listen to, each hand shake or hug we offer, is another word in the language of life on this planet. Our vocabulary is enriched as often as we pay attention to what is before us.

We may want to turn away from all the broken pieces, the bitterness in life, the things we don’t want to hear or think about. But they won’t go away. Each broken part offers us the chance to see the whole. To mend the pieces. To gain the new words to read and understand the whole Story. The bitter pill may heal us. The seeing eye is witness. The sound of crying makes us long for laughter. The feel of roughness and jagged edges helps us know where to smooth things out.

I’ve been working on learning from all the broken pieces I encounter. Looking at them instead of turning away and in so doing I am coming to understand my own biases and prejudices. These are the jagged shards of poverty, the broken shell that is oppression, the piercing thorn of injustice. I am trying to learn the vocabulary…to listen, in order to hear and understand, the painful and heartbreaking stories of those I do not know. Of things I will never experience. When I feel roughed up emotionally and spiritually I know it is part of the process of finding where my work needs to be done.

Are any of us whole and unbroken? Can we be when others are not? Look around the world, in our country. So many of us are fragmented and broken. All of us are missing so much of the vocabulary…all those broken pieces we step over, throw away… that we need in order to read the whole story. To understand. So many of us are afraid of pain and hurt. For ourselves and others. Yet, being afraid of these does not make it so that others do not live in fear and pain. Because the world is full of people living in fear and pain. So many of us are fearful of loss and aloneness. You or I may not be fearful of loss and aloneness, but millions live with these feelings every minute of every day. Many are filled with mistrust and anger. You or I may not feel anger or mistrust, but people all of the world are angry at and mistrustful of others, their government, their circumstances. We are content in our ignorance of many things.

That is not what I hope for. What I believe is possible. What I trust the end of the Story to be.

Now is a good time in our history to become fluent in the language of the Story of Life on this Earth. To understand we do not know most of the Story. To learn how to read all the words. To pick up new vocabulary for the sake of broadening our understanding. You might not want to think about racism or oppression, or fully understand the meaning of the words. But racism and oppression exists everywhere whether you want to think about it and understand it or not. Both of them hurt people. Both of them diminish the possibility of the individual and society. It’s time to piece together the broken and fragmented words, feelings, fears, hopes and people. To understand. To read all the chapters of the Story. To care. To give a damn. To strive towards wholeness.

Please check out what I’ve been reading this week This Week

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