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
sandcastle 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 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?”, asked the little girl. She wouldn’t give up.
“Ruth,” I answered. “I’m Ruth Peterson.”
“Mine’s Wendy... I’m six.”
“Hi, Wendy.” She giggled and said, “You’re funny.” In spite of my
gloom I laughed too and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me.
“Come again, Miss Ruth,” she called. “We’ll have another happy day.”
The days and weeks that followed belong to others: 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 while 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.
I had forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.
“Hello, Miss Ruth,” 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 pick.”
“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. My
world had collapsed around me and 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 I thought,
“Why am I saying this to a little child?”
“Oh,” she said quietly, “then this is a bad day.”
“Yes, and yesterday and the day before and-oh, go away!”
“Did it hurt?” she asked with wide eyed curiousity.
“Did what hurt?” I was exasperated with her, with myself.
“When she died?” she asked.
“Of course it hurt!” I snapped, misunderstanding, wrapped up in
myself.I stormed off and left her standing there.
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 Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today
and wondered where she was.”
“Oh yes, Mrs. Peterson, please come in. Wendy talked 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 it. “Where is she?”
“Wendy died last week, Mrs. Peterson. She had leukemia. Maybe she
didn’t tell you.”
Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. My breath caught.
“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, anything, to say to this lovely young woman.
She handed me a smeared envelope, with MISS RUTH 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:
A SANDPIPER TO BRING YOU JOY Tears welled up in my eyes. My heart had
been so heavy for so long that I had almost forgotten how to
appreciate those around me.
I took Wendy’s mother in my arms. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so
sorry,” I muttered 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. They speak to me of innocence, courage, and
undemanding love. A gift from a child with sea-blue eyes and hair the
color of sand... who taught me once again the gift of love.
NOTE: The above is a true story sent out by Ruth Peterson. 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.” Life is so complicated, the hustle and bustle of
everyday traumas, can make us lose focus about what is truly important
or what is only a monetary setback or crisis. Today, be sure to give
your loved ones extra hugs, and by all means, take a moment... even if
it is only ten seconds, and stop and smell the roses.