My father had passed away at the end of that September. Immediately after returning from his funeral, Phil and I had to move into my mother’s very small home with our two kids (then 1 and 4) because our house had suffered some damage. The repair would be time-consuming and costly and render the house unlivable for the next two months. It was clear to me that in order for us to recover financially, I would have to go back to work after having left when Jay was born. I had hoped to begin pursuing a writing career then (2007), but that dream would end up waiting two more years.
My mother and father had been divorced for many years, so while she was sad, especially for me, it was not the same as the oppressive grief enveloping me. The kids were too young to fully comprehend and while Phil understood and was also grieving, he was pulled back into that thing that doesn’t wait for people to “get over it” — life and work.
So even though I was surrounded by people crammed into this tight space, I felt like I was living inside of a black bubble that nobody could penetrate. The best part of the day was bedtime, when I could shut everything off for a while.
After a few weeks of this, we decided to take the kids and rent a house in the mountains for a long weekend. We needed to spread out and also give my beleaguered mother a break from our two energetic toddlers (not to mention my constant sadness).
Somewhere on the drive up, Jay had a diaper explosion of epic proportions, such that when we arrived, we had to strip him, put him in the bath, wash the
clothes and the car seat cover and hose down the car seat frame. The next day, Michigan lost their football game. That may seem like a small thing, but since my father and I bonded over football, it made me even more depressed. I slept by myself in the cold basement because the slightest human sound (snoring, kids tossing and turning), kept me wide awake. So much for rest and respite.
The last day of our stay, I took Em to a little paved trail at the center of the house’s subdivision. This trail surrounded a small man-made pond. (Native Coloradans would call it a lake, but as a Michigander, I knew better.)
Em said, “Mommy, I want to go down to the beach and look for seashells.”
Me: “We’re not going to find any seashells here, Em.”
Em: “Why not?
Me: “Because we’re in the mountains, honey, so there won’t be any seashells here. Plus, this is a man-made lake, so there probably isn’t anything living in it that wasn’t put there on purpose by the people who made the lake.”
All she heard was “mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa,” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons. She was unrelenting. “Please, Mommy! I know we’ll find shells there if we just go look. Please, please, PLEASE!”
I did not want to walk down to the lake, only to spend an hour looking for non-existent shells. At four years old, Em did not take disappointment well and I could see an irrational outburst in my future. But I swallowed everything I wanted to say about how nothing could live in this tiny pond at 9000 feet, that Colorado hadn’t seen any ocean since the Cretaceous period, and that even if there had been fossils here at some point, they’d be long gone after the excavation and building of the subdivision. Off we went to the rocky “beach.”
Within one minute, Em came running to me with a small, gray shell in her hand. A shell that had clearly had an aquatic creature living in it in the recent past. I could not process what I was seeing. I dropped to my knees and started sifting through the rocks and sure enough, there were shells. Everywhere. Hundreds of them. Soon, the two of us were running around the beach, laughing and collecting as many shells as we could.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that event lifted a tiny bit of pressure from my heart and marked the beginning of my recovery. Grief can take you to very dark places. I’ve said before that you don’t ever “get over it,” but you can incorporate the loss and enjoy life again. That day, my daughter and her sheer force of “belief” reminded me that life is a miracle and meant to be lived.
We’ve kept those shells and they seem to move around the house. They’ve been inside the glove compartment of the car, in Em’s room on her dresser, in Jay’s closet, in a little Tibetan prayer altar I have on my dresser, on the kitchen counter. It’s as if they turn up in different places so we can rediscover them and replay that beautiful moment over in our memories.
Now, I am sure there are scientists out there who could give me a perfectly grounded and logical explanation for those shells – what they are, why they live in that pond, etc. If you are that person, please save yourself the time.
Because the fact that the shells exist is not the miracle. The miracle is that we found them.
Do you believe in miracles?