The lines on the sailboats in the boatyard keen in the wind, cats meowing mournfully at some imagined wrong. The tide is low, the water nearly flat. In the not too distance, a shrimp boat’s silhouette cuts the gray landscape with edges as sharp as a knife blade. It is not exactly too cold for a long walk, but I am ill-prepared; the coat is warm enough, the shoes sturdy enough, but without gloves or a scarf, my hands, my face, my ears will be gnawed raw in minutes.
I walk toward the water, the movement unconscious as a long-rehearsed stage direction. I stop at the just-edge, the rim where foam and salt lick the sand, where it is neither wet nor dry, where the waves sigh, give up and move away in retreat.
I am here because there are things — events and words and feelings conjured by both — that, up to this moment, I have not taken the time to contemplate appropriately. I have held them like a bow string, so long, so taut that my body trembles. Here, at the seam of my world, the place where earth and sea are stitched together, I hope to be able to let them go.
"What does it mean?” I begin, speaking aloud without any self-consciousness. “What does it mean?” I ask of God or anyone else who might, serendipitously or divinely, suddenly appear and have some thoughts on the matter. “What does it mean?” and I throw into the winter wind all the facts that I hold but can’t seem to put together into a reasonable hypothesis.
I pause and take a deep breath. And another one. And another one. I hear the voice inside my head whisper, “There is a difference between the person who does not know how to love and the one who does but chooses not to.”
I gasp. The whisper has released the bow string, and the vibration fills me.
At my feet there is an oyster shell. I pick it up, turn it over and am greeted by a tiny crab, no larger than a nickel. Nearly translucent, with just a hint of veiny blue showing up near his tiny claws, he clings to the edge of the shell with his swimming feet, staring and daring me. I slide a fingernail between one of the little claws to see if he will grasp. It is what we do with newborn humans, offer them a finger and watch them circle it with their own.
I want this shell. I want to take it with me as a memorial, a reminder of the moment when the fingers of my weary heart loosed the bowstring and let it go, the moment when, standing here — at the place where nothing is unraveled, where everything is whole — everything I need to know became clear.
But, of course, I can’t take it. Someone has a prior claim — not necessarily better, just prior. And in such matters, respect must be paid to the one who got there first.
“I will not take your shell,” I tell the crab as I place it carefully back on the spot from which I’d drawn it. I do not deem it necessary to point out that my greater power would have made it incredibly easy to do so.
My ears are beginning to burn. The movement of my cheeks feels disconnected from the rest of my face. It is time to go. I pick up half a sand dollar, its broken edge as even as the perforation on a postage stamp. It, too, is from this place. It, too, is from this moment. And no one else has a prior claim. This one can be mine.