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Gifts from the Sea

seashellsThis time of year, we think of gifts and new beginnings, and I remembered the letter Ginny shared with us at coffee.  Her friend Kathy Godfrey, an Asheville author, had wondered how to appreciate the wounded veterans she was working with.  She decided to bring them gifts from the sea: shells which might prompt them to do some writing of their own. This article was published in the Island Eye news on November 9, 2012.

On Dewees, the wild gods of our truest Nature dance undiluted by “civilized” demands. Safe among such raw Beauty, I feel included, comforted, and immeasurably valuable. I feel Love. The shells that I offer as a token of that place bestow Love like a holy blessing on these men who give the greatest gift, they who (still) lay down their lives for me.

Kathy’s whole article is included below:

Some of the men in this room have killed for me. All of them have gone somewhere strange as my surrogate target, willing to stand between me and a bullet or IED or suicide bomber. And I bring them seashells. Some of them are wounded in ways I can see, some in ways that I can’t. All of them have risked everything: relationships, identity, trust, health, and sanity. They risked all so that I could choose to risk nothing. Some of them have lost everything. All of them are struggling to find their way Home.

And I bring them seashells.

Almost exactly one year earlier, I walk Dewees Island in near isolation looking for my own way. It isn’t my first stay on the island and every previous encounter has been life-altering. Dewees feels alive and primal in the way only a place devoid of much “society” can be. On that beach in mid-September, I am the first woman, the only woman who has ever been, the woman whose only companion is a god who comes to me as scribbling crabs, screaming osprey, mewling starfish, and my own voice.

On that beach a year ago, I cry a steady stream of questions. What have I done? Was it all for nothing? What did I do wrong? How could I have been so stupid? What is going to happen to me? Why am I so completely alone? How is any of this mess going to help anybody? Am I just insane? Why am I even here?

My questions are answered. When that gentle sunrise surf meets my toes, new light spilling across the water warming my face, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. As certain as my own name, I know that I am not separate from that Beauty that feels like Home. My heart sings. My feet dance.

“Show me the door,” I say to the wind having no idea what it means, but looking down at that precise moment. There glistening in the wet sand is an oyster shell with the perfect image of a door, and the back of a woman’s head looking at the door. I laugh out loud at the five-year-old fun of it all. Of course I pick up that symbol, and it lives in my desk drawer.

As I walk Dewees with my friend in September 2012, we gather sea treasure that I can carry back to the veterans’ group that I meet with weekly. My previous searching is much with me as we pick up sea urchins and abandoned moon snail shells. I have no idea how these trinkets will be received or why I feel it’s such a great suggestion to take them. I just do.

I show up for our next “Therapeutic Writing” class with fifteen little brown bags holding three different shells each, still unsure where they will lead us. As I watch grown men become enchanted with each piece of the sea they find, I know what to do. We first use the shells as a prompt for a freewrite. Writing quickly and without pause, the men capture memories, sensations, connections with the ocean which they share with the group.

Then we move on to the main writing topic: being a man. They write and share beautifully honest words about the pressure to measure up to our collective definition of “man.” They allow me the honor of sharing their fear, sadness, loneliness, frustration, and anger. They let me feel their desperate desire to not fail as our stoic protectors and providers, our mute strength and courage. And their desire to need nothing, ask for nothing, suck it up, be a man and get on with being a husband, son, father, brother, lover, laborer, fixer of all things.

I weep, not in sadness but in Love with each one of them. Overwhelming Love floods through me just as I felt on that Dewees beach. They feel it too. There is a moment when we are all together, closer than together. No separation can exist. We are all transformed in rakhma, the boundary-less Love.

In retrospect, I see what happened that day. We are all asking. I have the privilege of examining my life on Dewees Island unmolested by the ravages of war. Many of the men in this room have all the same questions, but they are asking from the midst of a maelstrom, blown wickedly from shock-inducing scenes of carnage to the dark confusion of conflicting expectations. They suffer, and mostly they suffer
alone, separated from us by the very service we demand of them.

On Dewees, the wild gods of our truest Nature dance undiluted by “civilized” demands. Safe among such raw Beauty, I feel included, comforted, and immeasurably valuable. I feel Love. The shells that I offer as a token of that place bestow Love like a holy blessing on these men who give the greatest gift, they who (still) lay down their lives for me.

In our moment together, I and they are reminded how Love feels, how connected we are. Thus are we all made whole and free.

2 thoughts on “Gifts from the Sea

  1. Really enjoyed the blog on the sea shell gifts. Then clicked on some other blogs listed. Especially like Reggie’s on fencing. You two are great writers and great observers. Many thanks to you both.

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