March 28, 2008

The Sandpiper

The Sandpiper

By Robert Peterson

She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near where I live.I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the world begins to close in on me. She was building a sand castle or something and looked up, her eyes as blue as the sea.

"Hello," she said.

I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child.

"I'm building," she said.

"I see that. What is it?" I asked, not really caring.

"Oh, I don't know, I just like the feel of sand."

That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes.

A sandpiper glided by.

"That's a joy," the child said.

"It's a what?"

"It's a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy."

The bird went gliding down the beach. Good-bye joy, I muttered to myself, Hello pain, and turned to walk on. I was depressed, my life seemed completely out of balance.

"What's your name?" She wouldn't give up.

"Robert," I answered. "I'm Robert Peterson."

"Mine's Wendy... I'm six."

"Hi, Wendy."

She giggled. "You're funny," she said.

In spite of my gloom, I laughed too and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me.

"Come again, Mr. P," she called. "We'll have another happy day."

The next few days consisted of a group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, and an ailing mother. The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands out of the dishwater. I need a sandpiper, I said to myself, gathering up my coat.

The ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was chilly but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed.

"Hello, Mr. P," she said. "Do you want to play?"

"What did you have in mind?" I asked, with a twinge of annoyance.

"I don't know. You say."

"How about charades?" I asked sarcastically.

The tinkling laughter burst forth again. "I don't know what that is."

"Then let's just walk."

Looking at her, I noticed the delicate fairness of her face."Where do you live?" I asked.

"Over there." She pointed toward a row of summer cottages.

Strange, I thought, in winter.

"Where do you go to school?"

"I don't go to school. Mommy says we're on vacation."

She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left for home, Wendy said it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.

Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of near panic. I was in no mood to even greet Wendy. I thought I saw her mother on the porch and felt like demanding she keep her child at home.

"Look, if you don't mind," I said crossly when Wendy caught up with me, "I'd rather be alone today." She seemed unusually pale and out of breath.

"Why?" she asked.

I turned to her and shouted, "Because my mother died!" and thought, My God, why was I saying this to a little child?

"Oh," she said quietly, "then this is a bad day."

"Yes," I said, "and yesterday and the day before and -- oh, go away!"

"Did it hurt?" she inquired.

"Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her, with myself.

"When she died?"

"Of course it hurt!" I snapped, misunderstanding,wrapped up in myself. I strode off.

A month or so after that, when I next went to the beach, she wasn't there. Feeling guilty, ashamed, and admitting to myself I missed her, I went up to the cottage after my walk and knocked at the door. A drawn looking young woman with honey-colored hair opened the door.

"Hello," I said, "I'm Robert Peterson. I missed your little girl today and wondered where she was."

"Oh yes, Mr. Peterson, please come in. Wendy spoke of you so much.I'm afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was a nuisance,please, accept my apologies."

"Not at all -- she's a delightful child." I said, suddenly realizing that I meant what I had just said.

"Wendy died last week, Mr. Peterson. She had leukemia.Maybe she didn't tell you."

Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. I had to catch my breath.

"She loved this beach, so when she asked to come, we couldn't say no.She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called happy days. But the last few weeks, she declined rapidly..." Her voice faltered, "She left something for you, if only I can find it. Could you wait a moment while I look?"

I nodded stupidly, my mind racing for something to say to this lovely young woman. She handed me a smeared envelope with "MR. P" printed in bold childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues -- a yellow beach,a blue sea, and a brown bird. Underneath was carefully printed:


Tears welled up in my eyes, and a heart that had almost forgotten to love, opened wide. I took Wendy's mother in my arms. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,I'm so sorry," I uttered over and over, and we wept together. The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in my study. Six words -- one for each year of her life -- that speak to me of harmony, courage, and undemanding love.

A gift from a child with sea blue eyes and hair the color of sand-- who taught me the gift of love.

NOTE: This is a true story sent out by Robert Peterson. It happened over 20 years ago and the incident changed his life forever. It serves as a reminder to all of us that we need to take time to enjoy living and life and each other.

The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.


rockync said...

There's an old saying;"God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as long as we speak."
You never know how the next words out of your mouth will impact another. A good reason to consider always what you're about to say.
A child lay dying, thinking it was going to hurt and the man that could have given her comfort instead left her with that last worry.
Once you say it, you can't take it back. Better to let words of comfort,encouragement and praise come from your mouth, even when you don't feel it.
It's amazing how, if you repeat something long enough, it will manifest itself into your life.
Creating positive energy lightens your load while creating negative energy weighs you down.

Anonymous said...

That Peterson guy was a selfish jerk.

Jan said...

'It's amazing how, if you repeat something long enough, it will manifest itself into your life.'

rocknc..I think that is what is referred to as self-fulfilling prophecy, but it is not true, neccessarily, obviously. It's true that a negative attitude can become very toxic to the one with the attitude, and to those exposed to it, and can affect one physically and mentally.

The reason that I say that it is not true, neccessarily, is because there would be a lot of wealthy people who have kept repeating that they are going to win the lottery. I've known a few who did that, but I don't know of a single one who has ever won.

I'm just trying to add a little levity here! :)

It is true that the man was thoughtless, but I think the whole point of the story was that he learned something from the experience, and was remorseful for his actions.

He says that it changed his life, and I took that to mean that it was in a positive way.

Jan said...

Hermit..maybe he was, but the story says that it changed his life.

I hope that some of the jerks in my life, have had their lives changed. :)

Anonymous said...

Jan, I guess a person can change, but they are still responsible for any evil they did before they changed. Like Jacob Marley in the Christmas Carol, I think a bad person drags along a heavy chain, each bad deed a link in that chain. But you can't "make up" for something you did, once done the impact exists forever.

There's no doubt in my mind you've influenced folks for the good in your life time. I think good people have that effect, even on the most hardened cynic.

Richard said...

What a touching, beautiful story. What a sweet child. We all start out that way I think. Wendy's mother was doing a great job. I hope Mr. Peterson was able to stay in touch with her. Thanks, Jan.

Jan said...

Hermit..yes, we're all responsible for our own actions. Change is possible, but sometimes people just don't realize how ornery they really are. :)

Jan said...

Richard..I thought it was a touching story.

I'd like to think that he and Wendy's mother kept in touch..perhaps, they did. :)

Big Daddy Jew said...

That really touched my heart and will make me more cognizant of how I respond to those around me. Thank you for that...

Jan said...

BDJ..I'm glad you liked the story..I did, too!

I've been wondering where you've been for so long! :)