I was on the beach the other day, breathing in the surf and listening to the chortling of playing children, the call of gulls, the whistle of the lifeguard at too-deep-straying-swimmers, the sound of air flapping through flags and sun-umbrellas. All was calm. The late afternoon sun played hide-and-seek behind the clouds, the light strung rhythms with the shadows and made the water dance.
A woman sat nearby me. I saw her when I arrived. There was a halo of space around her, a sort of boundary that others somehow did not cross even on a fairly populated stretch of sand. She had her beach gear all in line: the chair, the sun-umbrella, the cover-up, the towel, the hat, the shades, the bottle of water in its designated armrest hollow, the requisite paperback. There should have been nothing about her to stand out from the many others on the beach, and yet there was that halo … and something amiss about it. A gloom of sort, a yearning, even. A separation that hung above her, overshadowing the light and sun. The energy of it drew my eyes to her, and I felt pulled in by her need yet uncertain how to assuage it when her posture and avoiding of eye-contact also said “leave me alone” and “don’t ask me anything.”
How does one offer support to another about whom one knows nothing and yet perceives wishes no intrusion? I’m a talkative one, and usually make easy conversation with people around me (family teens have repeatedly rolled their eyes at me for that, asking “do you have to talk to everyone …?”), but sometimes chatting feels like an intrusion and the wrong connection. So I fell back on the good thoughts alternative, sending wishes for ease. In Therapeutic Touch this is a way of using intentional compassion to gently direct some of the universal flow of life and kindness to another, with the intent of healing and restoring equilibrium in whatever way that person needs and can do at the time. It is an offering of compassion for the sake of offering it, without intrusion or attachment to the outcome of how or if it would be used.
Regardless of healing intentions and their acceptance, I hoped that whatever her heartache or process or sorrow, that she be provided with whatever she needs for relief. If anything I offered did help, it would not be anything I was doing, anyway. Healing never is done onto another. All healing, by its very definition, is an act of making whole, of self-repair.
The surf flowed. Waves licked the sand, retreated, returned. The shadows elongated, lingered. An hour passed, dusk was arriving, some families were readying to leave, others–mostly with small ones that need to keep out of direct sun–were just arriving.
A movement caught my eye. A little guy in swim trunks to his ankles and a full head of (literally) sandy curls was traipsing purposefully on the sand. I looked up, automatically scanning for the caregiver. Protectiveness toward children is hard-wired in me and I have returned my share of wandering tykes to their minders over time. It is rarely a critic of care, really. It is not difficult to lose sight of a small person in the thick of people. Short of leashing the small ones to one’s wrist for safekeeping, all it takes is one second of head turned to tend to another child, to have a little one slip by.
No worries. This one had a watchful mama five steps behind.
I caught her eye, and we smiled at each other, connected over the shared attention to this determined little one, who not once turned to look behind him. He might have been oblivious to being followed or knew with total clarity that there were those who had his back … Maybe both. Sandy-Curls trudged on, little feet sinking in the sand with every sturdy step. He glimpsed at me as he got closer, but his eyes roamed away–I was not his source of interest, just a section of the scenery. His concentration made me smile.
It was the woman, I suddenly realized. He walked right into her ‘halo’, the several feet of space around her chair where no one–no child or adult or stray ball or gull–had yet trespassed. She looked up, surprised and not smiling but maybe curious or wondering whether he was lost, somehow, to come her way.
Oh, but he was not.
The little guy walked right up to her chair, lifted a dimpled arm, and unfurled a sandy fist. There was a shell in it. He moved his palm toward her, offering. A gift. She took it, too startled to smile. Sandy Curls nodded solemnly, then turned and walked away, toward the water and his mom. The mother and I exchanged looks, her eyebrow lifted in amusement. “He does that all the time,” she said. “Finds a shell and designates it for someone …”
He reached her and hugged her thigh and she patted his head lovingly. He looked at me then and I smiled and he grinned back, sunshine dancing in his honey-colored eyes. One hand he gave to his mother, the other he waved “Bye” at me, then turned and waved “Bye” at the woman, who still stunned waved back, now smiling–at him, at me, and his mother. Her ‘halo’ gone.
A little angel in the sand.