Edges Like Sea Glass
If there be any doubt as to the restorative powers of the sea, one need only spend a day on Long Island’s East End to understand that the water is a healer, a giver of strength, an active listener, and a humbling force that surrounds us. Growing up on the North Fork my life was shaped by the Sound, the Bay, the estuaries and marshes that form what is still one of the most magical places in the world to me.
Summer nights meant riding bikes down to Bailie Beach on the north shore, racing time to catch the deep pinks, oranges, and purples of sunsets that still remain in my mind’s eye. Admonitions from mom to clean off sandy shoes before rushing into the house to eat luscious red strawberries picked at a farm down the lane earlier that day. Evening walks past fields filled with swaying grains, potatoes still nestled in the earth, and orchards heavy with blushing fruit to be harvested in fall. Deep shades of blue hydrangeas somehow spared by the nightly forage of hungry deer and the smell of honeysuckle wafting on the salty breezes coming off the Sound. These are the moments that shaped my understanding of what beauty is, what life in a small farming community is, and these are the things that formed an aching emptiness in my soul when I left the East End to pursue my dreams.
The beaches of the East End have been a listening ear when the depths of my heart needed to be heard, a shoulder to lean on. I have embraced forgiveness, relinquished old habits, and come to the understanding that a day spent by the water can bring a powerful change in thinking. After I left for college, my days at home on the North Fork were precious. These were the times alone on the beach that I could wrestle with the decisions of life that weighed upon my young shoulders. I walked, the sound of the waves in my ear, the breeze playing with my hair, the gulls calling to one another across the divide, head down, eyes alert, searching for sea glass.
I don’t know how it started, but I do remember that one day I noticed a gem in a sea of ordinary sand. The speck of green stood out among the slipper shells, oysters, scallops, and iridescent warm tones of the jingle shells. I held it in my hand, this piece of glass smoothed by the tossing of the sea, once broken, once sharp and jagged, a mere speck of trash on nature’s canvas. The image was powerful. What if we are like this piece of glass? What if the nature of humanity is to be broken over and over? What if life is like the sea, shattering us, scattering our well made plans, and changing us in ways that soften our rough edges and make us beautiful?
This imagery has never left me. My own rough edges surface when I am broken by the loss of a loved one, a tough season in a relationship, or a change in carefully laid plans for the future. And as the winds of time blow and the waves of life crash around me, I return to the North Fork again and again. Head down, eyes peeled, searching for bits of glass that remind me these things are part of life, they shape, break, and mold us like the sea. A sailor once told me that it takes decades for a piece of sea glass to form and take its shape. Much like the human heart, the years take their toll on the sharp edges. Prejudice and bitterness are worn down, giving way to acceptance and contentment, enabling us to add beauty to the world and those around us.
The ability to spot a tiny speck of green glass among grains of sand, shells, and stones keeps the senses sharp. If our eyes are open to see such tiny, lovely things stand out among the ordinary, what else will we be trained to notice? Perhaps it means we will see a rare wildflower in the midst of meadow, or spot a heron in a flock of gulls. Maybe it translates to bigger things. Perhaps someday it will cause us to notice the pain in a friend whose smiles cover up their hurt, or to reach out to the shy soul standing alone in a crowded room. If we observe carefully enough, there is sea glass all around us.
Today, a clear glass lamp sits on an old painted table under a picture of the North Fork, the remains of a sunset visible. When switched on, the light softly glows on the greens, ambers, whites, and blues of sea glass collected over the years from beloved shorelines along the East End. Jackets hang in the hallway closet, pockets holding tiny pieces of glass caught in threads, to be discovered next time they are worn. Luggage taken out of the attic is zipped open and bits of green glass clatter on the wood floor. I pick them up, feeling the smoothness in my hands, putting them in my pocket, a constant reminder that home is always with me.