Naked Tree: ‘you’ll always remember what grew out of decisions that death can’t steal’ -rvotolato

and the leaves now
have undressed the trees
on this island of islands,
bare and brazen,
but not afraid
of the winter’s whisper,
of the threat of her howl,
while the whole damn world cowers,
the trees now
are rooted in sand so deep
they found soil
beneath soil,
beneath soil,
beneath the leaves of their past,
this is how you greet winter,
with the warmth of exposure
and with freedom, unmasked.

Caught in the Fog

This week there was a fog that covered Shelter Island for an entire day. It was light enough that standing in the middle of it, the warm colors of the autumn leaves blurred together a little like the yellows and reds of a Van Gogh. The distant trees on a small hill could’ve been any mountain in the Smokies of East Tennessee. Or, that is to say, had the fog been a little thicker, I might’ve questioned what world I’d woken up in. Forty feet out into the Peconic, there wasn’t a bay anymore. There wasn’t the sight of the North Fork I’ve grown accustomed to seeing these past few months. There wasn’t even any water. Just a white, endless haze lingering for what seemed forever. Haunting. Beautiful. And unlike every low-hanging cloud I’ve ever experienced in my life, this one didn’t lift.


On Tuesday, scallop season opened, and as luck would have it, I had a free ticket (worth some $22) to a local 41st annual scallop dinner. As I’d never had scallops before, this seemed like the right way to be introduced to them: caught that very day there in the waters by my home. The dinner – hosted by a Methodist Church in Cutchogue – was so well-attended that there were three seatings over the course of four hours, and I heard-tell of people traveling as far as two hours to come to the meal. One couple at our table, in fact, had driven around from the South Fork (or, perhaps making their meal a $60 meal, taken the two ferries through Shelter Island) to get there.

The dinner conversation was pretty standard for what you might expect being seated with strangers. You know, the usual questions people ask you about what you do and where you live, the best ways to prepare scallops, etc. A woman across the table, on hearing about life on Shelter Island, asked about the local post office, casually dropping the name of the Postmaster (who is really quite wonderful). [As no mail is delivered on Shelter Island, the Post Office becomes a kind of hub for islanders to meet-and-greet and gab on about the weather or whatever else, and though I’ve only introduced myself to my Postmaster once, she has remembered not only my name but my P.O. Box, as well. And that makes the place feel incredibly warm and inviting.] It wasn’t until the end of the meal that the woman inquiring about the Postmaster revealed that, in fact, the Postmaster was her daughter.

At another point in the meal, having said that I lived in Morocco for awhile before moving to New York, a woman sitting next to me mentioned that you can pick up Ras Al-Hanut, a Moroccan spice, at the Love Lane Market in Mattituck, and the gentleman across from her mentioned that he’d lived in Morocco working at Port Lyautey at the Naval Air Station there in the early 1950s and that a friend of his had been a Flight Mechanic in Casablanca during World War II. Small world: so was my grandfather. Another couple yammered on about how bad this winter might be, yet another about how much the East End has changed in the last ten, twenty, thirty years.

Stories. All of them containing pivotal little moments – when someone’s daughter became the Postmaster or when someone found themselves on African soil or when there was the one winter way back when no one has ever forgotten. Those were the stories being told. Within them, I knew, a thousand layers, not only to what was told but to how it was told, to what was left out, to what had been forgotten or intentionally kept quiet be it momentarily or forever. Lately, I’ve been painfully aware of the way our lives are constructed by the stories we tell, even the brief ones to strangers over a warm meal. And I’ve been painfully aware of what’s contained within those stories: the hellos and the goodbyes, the questions of roads not taken or frustrations over the ones that were. And we seem desperate, clinging in a way to determine what our story should say or how it should be told – the thousands upon thousands of decisions that could make or break our story, whatever we wanted it to be. More than that, we sometimes seem so caught up in the book cover or in how well it could sell that we don’t actually just live it and see where it goes.

But that’s all because it comes back to the fog. We’re plagued by that fog more than anything else. The one that some day may not lift. We’re plagued by the questions that arise in it, by the unfamiliarity of it, by how hard it is to find anyone else – let alone ourselves – out there in the haunting yet beautiful abyss. The questions of the fog cripple us from living our story. But the thing is, the ferry still runs in the fog. In the distance, you can hear the foghorns, the bells tolling, the gongs striking. The little birds you couldn’t see through that white haze you could nevertheless hear playing, fishing, flapping their wings unconcerned over the lack of visibility. The fish rippled through the waters, their world unaffected. And those of us upon finding ourselves in the middle of the fog kept on walking discovering the beautiful autumn leaves were still very much visible – that right here, right now, right where you are trudging forward without seeing perfectly clearly what’s ahead… that might still be good enough. There might yet be plenty of beauty in that. We might find ourselves as someone else’s foghorn or playful bird or unconcerned fish. We might find that we can, in fact, embrace the fog and live to tell the story after all. And if not? Well, at least the scallops were fresh.

Turkeys: ‘St. Geppetto, Patron Saint of Puppets, pray of us!’ – emorris

I watched the light fall thru the trees
and felt it’s warmth there gracing me
before the bitter winter begins
the breeze for now will embrace me,
and all along the water’s edge,
old oak, spruce, and apple saplings,
struts the wild wise fowl who forage
Toms and hens, the turkeys prattling
with much to say and mostly grumbling
I hear and love their bests and worsts
though for all the nonsense they are mumbling
I smile with my Thanksgiving thirst.

Seasons of Transition, or Autumn on Shelter Island, or Rummaging through Other People’s Stuff to Know Where You Belong

AutumnShelter Island is brimming with the colors of autumn. The trees are surrendering their leaves eagerly, and gold and crimson paint the landscape against a still-green grass. Needless to say, I am mesmerized by it, caught up in an awe that leaves me wandering around the island – quite literally – as though I’ve been transported into a dream, a surreal landscape of colors made only in the movies. Now that the summer residents have vacated, the island emptier and quiet, there’s a kind of freedom to everything, and watching the leaves fall doesn’t tell, as autumn often does, of the impending winter with all the deadened silence it promises. Instead, there’s the sense that the leaves are just doing what it’s time for them to do and are glad that now is their time. Even the trees that are already bare don’t seem cold and sad to me the way they did in other climes. Here, it just feels so much more like a kind of invitation, as though they’ve shed their heavy fur to better stretch out and feel the breeze against their naked skin. And this process is happening all around me at once. It’s as if the breeze has whispered to them all, “Now, now! Become light!” And to be in the midst of it is thrilling and humbling.

I started drinking my mother’s Russian tea again and am eager to carve pumpkins and warm up some apple cider. The cooler air doesn’t yet freeze: it just invites other reasons to bring about more warmth in other ways. As I’ve taken to exploring more of the island, I’ve wanted to see every tree I could and feel and smell the sea-breeze anywhere it might blow. And it’s lead me down some interesting paths:

One such path, in fact, has been to venture to estate sales on the island, and this past weekend took me to a four-story house overlooking the Heights. From the top floor, you could see the little peninsula – Jennings Point – where I live and beyond it all the way to the edge of the North Shore where Long Island Sound stretches to Connecticut. Strangely, I was more taken with the views from the house and with the house itself than I was with what was in it, but everything was for sale. I guess that should be obvious given that it was an estate sale, but I’d never been to one, and it felt sudden and intense like the changing leaves. Just somehow sadder.


Nothing had been moved. It all sat exactly where it had been when it was last used (some of which may have been a very long time), and the only difference was that a tag had been added claiming what it was believed to be worth in dollar amount and not in sentimental value. I wondered whether estate sales were ever happy events? Wasn’t the natural conclusion that someone had died? And so much of their stuff, the things they’d held dear perhaps, was now just a reason for someone to make money to be able to buy more stuff or pay off what was already owed. The words of the Teacher, that “everything under the sun is meaningless” (Ecc. 1:14) were on my tongue but were held within. Outside the leaves were still rushing to the ground to make a happy, final journey, and I hoped much of this story and the many stories the stuff therein lent to an equally happy end.

But as I wandered around peering into room after room, I realized that without those stories, the stuff felt flat to me. I kept thinking that if someone told me about the grandfather who carved the wooden giraffe in the corner, I’d just have to have it. Or if I overheard a conversation about the old trunk in the middle of the room, I’d long for it, too. A few months ago on my first yard-sale outing, I came across something that looked like a clock but one that counted high tide and low tide instead of time, and as I looked it over, a gentleman in his 70s smiled and said that he’d made it himself, carved the wood by hand. It wasn’t pride that he spoke; just the assurance and hope he conveyed that something handmade would have the right home. I smiled back and told him that my grandfather had done a lot of woodwork, too, and I bought the little clock on the spot. Stories extend the impermanent; the better the story, the longer the permanence of a thing will last.

All of that is to say, my mind lately is so heavily-focused on things that last amid major change, on the movement from old to new and seasons doing what they must. But how can you tell a leaf from a tree if they had the same roots? How can you know what of the past isn’t just a dusty tradition but is something that belongs?

I am not from New York, and this is something my southern drawl, faint though it is, reminds me and my coworkers of daily. And yet, I pride myself on the little accomplishments – on learning how to correctly pronounce “Lawn Guyland” and maintain that pronunciation each time I say it. For as much of a belonging as I feel I have gained here already, there’s still much acclimation I have ahead of me, acclimation borne in the task of determining what belongs and who I am to make that call. My job right now, in fact, is deeply tied to this question as I prepare a new season of camp, one that will impact some 700 people directly and countless others along the way.

Part of being so “new” to a place is to learn how to dissect, understand, and respect the cultural differences of that place and how you either fit into it – or don’t. And, along with that, what to do when the fit doesn’t happen as nicely as you might wish it did. As a Peace Corps volunteer, the first six to nine months of my life in Morocco were devoted almost entirely to this aim, the process of adjustment, and so it’s interesting that in a culture where I speak the same language, eat pretty much the same food, and share the same nationality, I can still find myself needing to “adjust” to a different kind of culture shock, the kind where, say, a four-story mansion leaves me feeling likes the leaves rushing to the ground outside but still wanting to know what my place is in waltzing about ooing and aahing at the beautiful view. Peering across the Peconic Sound at my home from a mansion in the Heights was eye-opening to say the least —

PharmacyI have come to feel strongly that in order to do my best job, to be my best self, I have to have a very clear understanding of the vision that’s been laid before me. It’s important to me how I worded that, too. Note that I didn’t say “my vision,” though I hope to shape the one that’s long been a part of this place. To have vision is more than merely peering selfishly into the future to foretell the best possible outcome or how to get there. It requires understanding the past in all its flaws and with all its greatest triumphs. And in looking backward and forward together it requires remembrance, something that is markedly different from simply “remembering,” which is a cerebral process, but remembrance is instead an action, if not even a kind of ritual that moves from the cerebral recalling of a narrative toward the acting it out. Vision takes the “stuff” cluttering our homes and hears the old stories, but, instead of leaving the stuff to gather dust, picks it all back up again and makes a space for new stories to stand alongside it. That is, vision is wholly utilitarian. And it requires community. A vision for yourself is dead. It’s not merely a fallen leaf. Those grow back or replenish the ground. Vision without community is dead at its roots. Vision with community knows how to decipher the leaves from the trees. It celebrates change not as an end but as part of the regrowth process. But not every leaf will understand that’s what’s happening as it falls or will grasp the beauty of the process, and that’s why change is sometimes so much harder than it should be; that’s why vision, which includes change, demands seeing the whole picture: not merely the leaf but the tree; not merely the tree but the ground and the roots below; not merely the roots of one tree but of the many they’re connected to; not merely the many root systems but the whole of the forest and its ecosystem.

Walking around the little downtown of Shelter Island Heights, I ended up in Dering Harbor just off Bridge Street on the 114 between the North and South ferries. A car pulled up and the window rolled down, “Can you tell me how to get to the ferry?” someone asked. I pointed them in the direction and assured them they were on the right road. Another car. Same question. And another. Somehow just walking down the street, I joked to myself, I must look like a native. I must seem like I know where I am and what I’m doing. I don’t. None of us really do. Even when we are natives to an area. But I’m gaining the ability slowly but surely to look back and know where the roads I’ve traveled lead. I’m looking forward and pointing out the best route I know for now. Isn’t that all any of us can ever really do? At least until the time comes that, we too, will happily fall from the tree to replenish the ground, and the whole season will celebrate what’s come before and what’s coming after.

Stories from Hershey, Pennsylvania, or Why the Church Needs Camp

On the way to Hershey, Pennsylvania, there was a light mist just gracing everything. It was probably remnants of Joaquin, the hurricane that teetered and tottered over whether or not it was really going to make landfall, but out here, in God’s country, hurricanes are not on anybody’s mind. There’s something simple to life here, and I mean that in every positive connotation the word “simple” can offer. Grass that grows the way it did when this was still a “frontier,” cows grazing like the mist was a good bath, barns and silos that are actually painted red like barns you see in paintings. The whole landscape is just that, an American painting, really. Which is, I should say, not what I was expecting out of Hershey, Pennsylvania. I think I was picturing something more industrial, like what I imagine Scranton to be. I had expected dull, white factories against a backdrop of rusted train tracks and trash blowing on the street. Instead, the factory here is a magical place where little girls turn into exploding blueberries, bubbles can make you fly, and everybody has a golden ticket. Okay, maybe it’s not that glamorous. But I won’t lie: there was a faint smell as I drove into town of smoking chocolate. Maybe I just imagined it, but I will always claim that’s what I smelled.

I got roped into (which I also use in the most positive way possible) a “transformational leadership conference” of United Methodist clergy and lay leaders from ten conferences across the Northeast Jurisdiction of the church. About 700 people in sum. There’s something about a group of church leaders coming together that makes it feel a bit like a synod or council with major decisions being made, but really, the general consensus of the gathering seemed to be this: the system is broken, the church is dying, what do we do?

Why is it dying? Why is Methodism dying? Everybody had a different, good reason! To name a few I heard while there: churches want to be nurtured rather than reach out and do good work in the world; the lack of prophetic voices (i.e. voices speaking out about injustices) renders the church irrelevant; dysfunctional conferences that make [financial] decisions that benefit the few rather than the many; an unwillingness or inability on the part of leadership (or the congregation) to be vulnerable and honest within their respective ministries; too many selfish decisions that lacked empathy or the reminder that the church is communal. I’m not sure people left the conference empowered or not? They certainly left with more clarity about how much is broken. And every once in a while, someone offered a tidbit, a “morsel” might be a better word given our location, of advice, but there was deep grieving shadowing over it.

In some ways, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I am not United Methodist, though I work for the church as a camping professional. I do not serve a dying congregation. Or any congregation. And the people I do serve are a relatively transient population (though I would argue that the impact we have on their lives is anything but transient!). In a weekend of lamentations, what I heard out of these conversations left me thinking that what everybody yearns for is that their church would be more like camp. And is that any surprise, really? All weekend, as I met people and mentioned off-hand that I worked at a camp, the response was almost always: “That’s how I got into ministry – when I was working as a camp counselor, etc.” Ah, yes, the good old days. So what went wrong?

Church Camp offers a sacred space where kids and staff, alike, are invited to be vulnerable, to be themselves, because the very basics are that God loves you for who you are. The Church encourages secrecy and shame in an environment of judgment and distrust. Church camp brings strangers to the same space and in only one short week forges them together as a trusting family. The Church brings strangers together each week and keeps them, for the most part, as strangers in what is a very Americanized, individualistic experience. Church camp calls kids and staff to be better, even in their disagreement and discord, than they might be anywhere else: to live honestly and speak truth to power if necessary – but in a way that seeks unity within the community. The Church fails to be a prophetic voice in the world, and when the church is living righteously (or thinks it is), it does so in a way that creates deep division built mostly on a false sense of moral superiority.

Of course, speaking of moral superiority, I’m not being entirely fair: church camp is the church, which should not be forgotten (and too often is by people like me). And for my very general statements that “church camp is x” or “the church is y,” I’m sure there are plenty of failing camps out there and plenty of successful churches, too. But when the United Methodist system, generally-speaking, has high hopes that our camps will produce future Methodists, it shouldn’t feel so much like “church” and “church camp” are two separate entities. And it seems backwards to me to expect our camps, many of which offer thriving experiences for unchurched youth, to prepare kids for the very mundane, awful world of a Sunday morning, dry church experience when they and we know that something better is out there. Why should they waste their time on a place where they will not be connected – to people or to God? As I said in an email to a seminary president I met this weekend, “And so it is: millennials have this amazing experience at camp, then return to their dead churches filled with fake ostentation, and they make the right decision to leave.” Who can blame them?

In the course of Christian history, you’ll find mostly campers. Jacob camping at the Ford of Jabbok and wrestling with God. The Tent of Meeting housing the Ark at Shiloh (i.e. the first “temple” where God resided, indeed, was a kind of camp). Moses and God’s people wandering in the wilderness and given manna from heaven. While they camped. Jesus, the peripatetic Jew, camping during the transfiguration or resting and praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place apart from the city. And it wasn’t just the ancient world. Fast-forward to the dawn of Methodism and you guessed it: more camping. The Wesley brothers camped at St. Simon’s in Georgia. The circuit riders and early revivals of American Christianity: campsites. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something to this camping thing – this simpler way of life the way the endless stretch of grassy fields near Hershey, Pennsylvania feels simple and welcoming. Maybe, just maybe, what the church needs is not for camps to produce churchgoing Christians but for churches to produce camping Christians. Maybe, just maybe, if Christianity – or at least Methodism – is to survive beyond the next fifty or so years, things better start looking a whole lot more like camp than they do in their current state.

Driving back to New York, I left at the crack of dawn to avoid city traffic and hugged the Hudson River on the Jersey side just as the sunrise glimmered off the skyscrapers. It was like I’d figured out exactly when New York City sleeps, but it was also surreal seeing the empty street the closer I got to the George Washington Bridge. I thought about how busy this place would soon be, ghost-town though it was in this brief moment. The people from the NEJ conference would soon be returning to their cities, their charges and ministries, likely still filled with lamentations and worries and asking, “What am I going to do?” As for me, I headed back to camp, where I live and work. And I hope they’ll join me there.

The Transient Paths of All the Creatures of the Field

There’s a family of groundhogs that have been hanging around my house lately. They are joined, strangely enough, by the sudden return of deer who avoided the island like the plague when the summer crowds first arrived on Memorial Day. Some have been brave enough to get within a few feet or so. And driving down the road recently, I saw again a flock of turkeys. It’s as if a “no [insert animal here]” sign was removed much the way the stop signs on Shore Road will be removed soon after Labor Day.

There are, of course, the usuals who never left – the squirrels, the chipmunks, the ospreys, and the gulls – all around and about. But I’m intrigued most by the coming-and-going of the temporary little animals – both the furry, cuddly kind and us human beings, too. It’s almost jarring how quickly life can change, the mode of circumstances that drive us – quite literally – from one place to the next. That’s how quickly I found myself drawn from Morocco to cross the ocean to Tennessee to New York.

I remember when I was in high school and first studying early nomadic humans in Mr. Briley’s world history class and how strange it was to me that people picked up and left and didn’t know one place, really, as home. Our earliest ancestors did what the animals seem to do even now: follow the safest path that has the guarantee of food. But by the time I was reading the Odyssey a few years later, it seemed to me there was a drive greater than the search for safety or food alone that lead us away. Something tied together the unknown, some need to know it, and our need to be. Something nearly guaranteed this kind of transience for a life that’s already, fortunately or not, a fairly transient one. Was some evolutionary pattern instilled in us so that when we did choose to go, we were still just following the food sources subconsciously? That may be, but I think the search for bread and wine can be one deeply symbolic and beyond the physical elements. It’s no wonder that the eariest mythologies, the earliest gods and goddeses, were tied to the land, the river, the well-springs of life. But they were tied to them in a way that followed the well-spring to where it sprang most, and that was something that they found often shifted and changed as the waters moved.

The holiest places, then, were the places we human beings felt it was safe to stop, even if (or especially when) that was temporary. And we still do this. It’s why we camp, why we retreat, why we vacation, or even move. In a society so driven by consumerism, there’s more than money pushing us out of our complacency whether we listen to it or not. There’s a voice that whispers, “Go,” against all our fears of leaving our holy spots, our sanctuaries. There’s another voice that whispers, “Stay,” when we stumble upon our calling. It’s the very reason most great prophets, Jesus included, were peripatetics, sauntering such that their home was wherever their feet were at the given moment. How long are we allowed to stop? How long do we need to replenish ourseles? From where is the water fulfilling enough and can we distinguish it from the bitter waters we choose too often to drink instead? How long before the holy home of rest is grown to something mundane and no longer the haven to us it once was? Will we carry the courage to acknowledge when we must go or when we must stay? Will we connect ourselves to our inner self, to the “Ground of Being,” to others so that we can hear the voices with honesty when they nudge at us? Whether evolutionary patterns or not, we are called to be like the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky or even the little groundhogs scuttering away to the shadows underneath the cottage. But they seem to know better than us how long to be. I envy them and the early nomads for the ease with which the evolutionary patterns seem to be guiding to their most basic decisions. But I’m thankful too for the rest, for the pause, for the return of the little creatures and the role I play welcoming them here to my home, however temporary or long-loved they or I will be.

Broken Shells in all their Goodness, or the Adventure of the Mystery Black-Orange Pottery Pieces

On the southwestern tip of Shelter Island, there’s a hidden public beach called Shell Beach. I say it’s hidden because you could easily drive right by the unmarked turn-off for it in a residential area and never know it was there. But the beach itself is nearly a mile-long peninsula just barely wide enough for a one-lane, gravel road. And all along the beach are thousands upon thousands of shells. On one side of the beach, in fact, the shells have beat up against the bulkhead and are about a foot thick. The tide has just kind of dumped them there in a treasure trove of conch shells, clams, and cockles, among others.

I went there this afternoon with our summer staffers Charlotte and Wendy and Wendy’s kids Jamin and Cora, and we just kind of walked around in awe at the beauty of this little, underpopulated hidden beach. While Wendy and Cora swam, Jamin and I – decked out in shoes and socks and not remotely prepared to get wet – went digging through the thousands of shells instead.

“What about this one, this one’s cool?” Jamin would hand me one of the jingle shells and point out something about it he liked. I kept tossing the shells about with my feet, occasionally picking one up, inspecting it, and determining whether or not it was good enough for keepsake. There’d be one that was oh, so close to being perfect were it not for the chip on the side. And I wondered out loud, when there’s so many thousands to choose from, what the rubric was for deciding a shell was worth picking up and calling it yours. Did it have to be exotic and different or weird? Or just colorful enough? Or shinier than the others? Jamin couldn’t decide, but it seemed like his rubric was a lot different than mine. He’d pick up fully-broken shells, funky shells, rocks, whatever and acknowledge how wonderful it was. I was pickier. Too picky.

I found a rare conch shell that could easily still function as a home – not a single crack, not a single hole in the shell at all. “Oh yeah,” I told Jamin, “This one’s perfect.” But Jamin wasn’t all that impressed. “No, it’s not perfect, ’cause there’s not a conch living in it,” he laughed.

Shell BeachAt one point, we started finding bits and pieces of what looked to be black pottery with orange paint on it. It was curious enough that we started to collect a little of it, only to discover that the more we looked around, the more there seemed to be. Ten, twenty, a hundred yards, there was more and more of the broken black pottery with faded orange paint. It became easier to spot as if our eyes had grown accustomed to look for it and nothing else. Jamin and Cora began to collect mounds of it, and we placed it in a pile and discussed what it could be. On a few pieces were the letters, “CH,” or a registered symbol. It took me back to my time in Israel digging through Iron age pottery and wondering whether the piece I was holding was Egyptian or Phoenician. There was a mystery at hand, and we were determined to solve it. As Jamin and I walked looking for more pieces with writing on them, I started thinking through it: it was too much and too spread out to be only from one jar or bottle. It felt ceramic, maybe hardened rubber and broke fairly easily under stress. The “CH” probably spelled “Champion,” and the orange paint and word itself seemed to indicate some kind of sport-related equipment. I told Jamin I thought it was skeet and explained, the best I could, what skeet is. By the time we met back up with Wendy, she’d been thinking the exact same thing.

Searching a beach through a treasure trove of shells and skeet, and I can’t help but shake this notion that we find what we’re looking for – what we were probably looking for before we even stumbled upon the treasure. Earlier this week, I read an article on CNN about how UFO experts have grabbed hold of some of the pictures taken by the Mars’ rovers and claimed they see alien life encased in the rocks. Others have come to call what they saw “pareidolia,” the trick the human mind plays in that we often see something that isn’t really there because our mind wants to bring recognizable shapes together to create meaning from them. It’s the very same thing with seeing Jesus in a piece of toast. And it felt similar somehow digging through shells, seeing in the shells the worst and best of ourselves:

There was brokenness within me built into my drive to find the perfect piece. There was happy, childlike love in Jamin’s discovery that the broken pieces were still whole and wonderful in his eyes. There was such absolute grace in Jamin’s admonishment that what I saw as the “perfect” piece lacked perfection because it was merely an empty house and no longer a real home. There was the mystery of the broken pottery and our very real desire to know the stories that brought the brokenness to this beach – determination in solving a puzzle that would somehow bring us comfort. All summer long, what I’ve seen in myself, in others too, are these very things. We want so badly to find the perfect pieces when there just are none. We could choose to pick up the broken ones and see them as just as beautiful, if not more so, than the ones that just haven’t been around long enough to break, but too often, we end up blaming the whole treasure trove for not having enough of what we’re looking for rather than asking why we’re searching how we’re searching. And I think that’s so very important – to recognize that our perception is our reality and may very well need to be questioned, even if it’s questioned by a seven year-old. That our frustrations, our struggles, our puzzles before us so often have so little to do with what’s right in front of us and so much to do with the baggage we’ve stored up and carried to this very moment where we find ourselves frustrated, struggling, or puzzled in the first place. At any rate, I’m not sure I’ll ever pick up a shell again the same way without seeing how beautiful it really is, but I will be going back to Shell Beach.