I am at the beach remembering–weaving the past into the present moment and at the same time committing the beauty of now to future memory. We memorize the moment and outline it with what has been. Hope realized has its roots in a time before this. The sigh of relief is that the fear of ‘then’ has been averted by the promise of now. We walk into beauty’s embrace with the fleeting confidence of a life that won’t stand still.
I am at the beach, measuring my life in stories and sifting, sifting, telling, feeling, sifting my story like sand. The hands that write this built sand castles as a toddler; then later joined Coppertone tan teen hands with friends jumping waves; and later still held hands with a husband; held babies in the waves…. And now my hands hold the hands of granddaughters as we stare at the vastness of the sea. These stories sift and shift and shimmer. They won’t stand still.
“Remember?” We say it over and over, as if our memory is communal. In truth, we hold our own stories and our own stories shape our memory. Memory shapes our experience. Experience shifts and reshapes our stories; the way we remember is an ever changing coastline.
Some stories are held in place by the bookends of birth and death. We, the survivors, when we are ready, edit the material that lies between these bookends. We edit and refine and restore to life the very essence of that which wants to live forever. “Remember?” we ask, only now we can’t get the word out without laughing or choking up or stopping for what comes next (as though we don’t know). These are the moments that catch the light of eternity.
“I do remember!” I call into the wind. My voice is swallowed in the crashing predawn waves, in the stillness of the guitar string, in the empty chairs on the deck, in the porch swing that moves with the weightlessness of the gone. I do remember. I don’t stand here long. I see the white caps on the waves– a warning to turn around. The sirens of grief run deep. I turn from the vastness of looking at it all at once. The sun has come up again and in its coral light, I walk back to the beach house with deep gratitude for the family that was– and will always be– a cast that populates my life, dreams, and stories. I turn to the family that is. We’ll laugh about a game we played. Otters are already an inside joke– a punchline that no longer needs the story. Fresh. New. Hilarious. And beautiful in the shadow of the word “remember.”
The role of family archivist has come to me. Red and blue bordered airmail envelopes and postcards of ocean liners or TWA jets and brochures from far away beaches, sift through my fingers like sand, ephemeral and evocative. Unfolded blue paper, tissue thin, recounts the experiences that have shaped and reshaped the stories I have known or lived. The past runs like a current into the present moment, where the sifted sand shimmers and glimmers.
A two year old granddaughter holds a lemon popsicle and looks out at the ocean– vast and blue and brand new. The past tense flows into the present tense. It is my gratitude for the now that allows me to look at the past so unguardedly. The present tense is current. I remember. I am grateful. Life is Beautiful.