This past weekend, my daughter and I were trying to escape the literal and virtual storm that was surrounding us. Hurricane Hermine had blown through south Georgia and northern Florida, and somehow we had escaped with only a temporary loss of power and a lot of debris strewn around my mother’s house on Amelia Island. We were fortunate, compared to so many. However, the hurricane of loss that swirled around our family could not be escaped. My mother and my children’s grandmother was gone. My mom’s house – full of family, flowers, and food – felt so very empty without her.
More than 20 years ago, my husband and I were also in a hurricane on the island. The day following, we went shell-seeking, as the storm tossed some real treasures on the beach. We collected lots of shells that still adorn my mother’s house. My daughter and I thought that maybe we would be equally fortunate. We desperately needed to get away from all the swirl of of planning and executing a funeral – for just a short time, for our our own well-being.
Of course, if we had been logical, we would have realized that the storm came from the Gulf, so we should not have expected any real finds. However, she and I walked hand in hand to the end of the island, unsuccessful in finding any shells, but tossing lots of “live” sand dollars back into the surf to survive another day.
We have had a tradition in our family the last few years of collecting sharks teeth. Each of us has a bowl with our personal booty. I said to my daughter, “I feel like I’ve been looking down so much for sharks teeth and shells today that I haven’t even enjoyed the beauty of what’s right in front of me.” Because of the hurricane, the sky was as beautiful as it has ever been – it was bright blue, and full of big, fluffy clouds. She reminded me, that despite the immense beauty of the sea and the sky because of the storm, that there was still tremendous beauty as I was looking down at the sand in front of me.
Given this past summer, that struck an incredible chord in me. I have been looking down all summer – mostly at the floor of a hospital room. My head has hung low. My heart has hung even lower. I have been looking down, and not out. Not up to God. But down at my own sadness, fear and anxiety.
But as my daughter reminded me, in looking down, there was still immense beauty. The sand was full of shells in all colors, shapes and sizes. It demonstrated the beauty of God’s creation, in its most simplest form.
In the lowest points this summer, when I could hardly look up from the floor, there were nurses who did the hard work of caring for a dying soul, who they did not know, but who mattered to so many in real and concrete ways. There were friends of mine and my mother’s who took the time to reach out to me and to my family in practical and sincere ways. When I got home from the hospital late at night, my mother’s friends fed me, and welcomed me into their homes, before I collapsed in a heap in the bed. Just to start again the next day all over again.
As a Catholic, I did not overlook the fact that my mother was in a hospital named for St. Vincent de Paul – whose members “serve individuals who are in need and are part of an international society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection.” Every day as I walked to the cafeteria for coffee by a statue of St. Vincent de Paul meeting a man in need, I knew I had a cheerleader by my side. Every day I saw families in much greater need than me, caring for their loved ones in the best way that they knew how. Truly, pain, suffering and grief do not have an zip code or a social class. We are all one.
I am thankful for my daughter for reminding me that beauty resides not only in the big picture, but also in the very smallest parts of our lives as well.
Open My Eyes
Open my eyes that I may see the deepest needs of men, women and children
Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;
Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;
Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;
Let me share my possessions with people in need;
Give me the care that strengthens the sick;
Help me share in the quest to set prisoners free;
In sharing our anxieties and our love,
Our poverty and our prosperity;
We partake of your divine presence. Amen.
– Vincentian Prayer