Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What to Do When A Sandpiper Sends You A Joy

All I can say is: Never tell anyone you're going through even the slightest bit of unpleasantness. They  just might tell someone who tells someone else who tells someone else who, eager to help and inspire you, sends you the following email.

Note: Even though it's waaaay too long (as only an atrociously written, flagrantly unedited narrative can be) and possibly something you've already read (though new to me, various versions have been circulating for years), I am presenting this unbidden message in its entirety (all in italics) if only to present the email exchange (not in italics) that ensues once it finally (repeatedly) ends. So here goes:

A beautiful story.... with a good message.   This story doesn't ask anyone to forward it or take any action other than to read and enjoy.

The Sandpiper  by Robert Peterson 

 She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near where I live.
 I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the world 
begins to close in on me. She was building a sand castle or something and
 looked up, her eyes as blue as the sea. 

 "Hello," she said.

 I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child.

 "I'm building," she said.

"I see that. What is it?" I asked, not really caring.

 "Oh, I don't know, I just like the feel of sand."

That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. 

A sandpiper glided by.
 "That's a joy," the child said. 

 "It's a what?"

"It's a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy."

 The bird went gliding down the beach. Good-bye joy, I muttered to myself,
 hello pain, and turned to walk on. I was depressed, my life seemed  completely out of balance.
 "What's your name?" She wouldn't give up.

"Robert," I answered. "I'm Robert Peterson."

"Mine's Wendy... I'm six."

"Hi, Wendy."
She giggled. "You're funny," she said. 

 In spite of my gloom, I laughed too and walked on.

Her musical giggle followed me.

 "Come again, Mr.. P," she called. "We'll have another happy day."

The next few days consisted of a group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings,
and an ailing mother. The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands
 out of the dishwater. I need a sandpiper, I said to myself, gathering up my  coat.
 The ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me.. The breeze was chilly
but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed.

 "Hello, Mr. P," she said. "Do you want to play?" 

"What did you have in mind?" I asked, with a twinge of annoyance. 

"I don't know. You say."
"How about charades?" I asked sarcastically.

 The tinkling laughter burst forth again. "I don't know what that is."

 "Then let's just walk."

 Looking at her, I noticed the delicate fairness of her face.  "Where do you live?" I asked.

"Over there." She pointed toward a row of summer cottages. 

 Strange, I thought, in winter. "Where do you go to school?"

 "I don't go to school. Mommy says we're on vacation"

 She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind was
 on other things. When I left for home, Wendy said it had been a happy day.
 Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.

 Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of near panic. I was in
 no mood to even greet Wendy. I thought I saw her mother on the porch and
 felt like demanding she keep her child at home.

 "Look, if you don't mind," I said crossly when Wendy caught up with me, "I'd
 rather be alone today." She seemed unusually pale and out of breath.

 "Why?" she asked.

 I turned to her and shouted, "Because my mother died!" and thought, My God,
 why was I saying this to a little child?

 "Oh," she said quietly, "then this is a bad day."

 "Yes," I said, "and yesterday and the day before and -- oh, go away!"

 "Did it hurt?" she inquired.

 "Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her, with myself.

 "When she died?"

 "Of course it hurt!" I snapped, misunderstanding, wrapped up in myself. I strode off.

A month or so after that, when I next went to the beach, she wasn't there.
 Feeling guilty, ashamed, and admitting to myself I missed her, I went up to
 the cottage after my walk and knocked at the door. A drawn looking young
 woman with honey-colored hair opened the door.
"Hello," I said, "I'm Robert Peterson. I missed your little girl today and
 wondered where she was."
 "Oh yes, Mr. Peterson, please come in. Wendy spoke of you so much. I'm  afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was a nuisance, please, accept my apologies." 

 "Not at all! she's a delightful child." I said, suddenly realizing  that I meant what I had just said.

"Wendy died last week, Mr. Peterson. She had leukemia.  Maybe she didn't tell you."

 Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. I had to catch my breath.

 "She loved this beach, so when she asked to come, we couldn't say no. She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called happy days. But the last few weeks, she declined rapidly..." Her voice faltered, "She left  something for you, if only I can find it. Could you wait a moment while I
 I nodded stupidly, my mind racing for something to say to this lovely young  woman. She handed me a smeared envelope with "MR. P" printed in bold  childish letters.. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues -- a yellow beach, a blue sea, and a brown bird. Underneath was carefully printed:


 Tears welled up in my eyes, and a heart that had almost forgotten to love opened wide. I took Wendy's mother in my arms. "I'm so sorry, I'm so  sorry, I'm so sorry," I uttered over and over, and we wept together. The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in my study. Six words -- one for each year of her life -- that speak to me of harmony, courage, and  undemanding love.
 A gift from a child with sea blue eyes and hair the color of sand 
 -- who taught me the gift of love. 

NOTE: This is a true story sent out by Robert Peterson. It happened over 20  years ago and the incident changed his life forever. It serves as a  reminder to all of us that we need to take time to enjoy living and life and each other. The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.

 Life is so complicated, the hustle and bustle of everyday traumas can make  us lose focus about what is truly important  or what is only a momentary setback or crisis..

 This week, be sure to give your loved ones an extra hug, and by all means,  take a moment... even if it is only ten seconds, to stop and smell the roses.

 This comes from someone's heart, and is read by many and now I share it with you..

 May God Bless everyone who receives this! There are NO coincidences!
 Everything that happens to us happens for a reason. Never brush aside  anyone as insignificant. Who knows what they can teach us?
 I wish for you, a sandpiper.

What sort of response was the sender expecting?  Confirmation that I, too, had been blind like poor Robert Peterson until reading this email and finally--gratefully--seeing the light?   Alas, like George Washington and Christopher Hitchens, I could not tell a lie.
So I gave her my only and honest response:
Even a dying child should be taught 
not to talk to strange men---on the beach
or anywhere else

To which she said:
Not all of those men on the beach are nasty. 
 Sometimes we all help each other without harm. 

To which, unable to curb myself, I said:
Trust me--even I realize that "sometimes we all help each other without harm" and that
 not all men, or women for that matter, on all beaches are, as you say, "nasty."
I just think it's best not to take any chances.
If that makes me a negative sandpiper, so be it! 

To which she said:
No not a negative anything. Safety is a positive thing. Be Safe. 

To which this sandpiper could not respond, as all this hippie talk gave her a headache. 


  1. *lies on floor, wheezing and choking on snark*

    I am torn between horror and laughter that you actually responded!!!! CLEARLY, we, along with Robert Whomever, are meant to feel unnecessarily guilty for rebuffing an ill child. We are supposed to have thought, Alas! I would have been much more callous about my own dying mother had I known that this child, too, was suffering from the ebbing of life!

    True fact: all of us are dying from the moment we draw our first breath. Sometimes we deal graciously with each other. Other times, we completely foul up, and have to live with regret. And yet, the Sandpiper of Joy manages to still run along the beach, not sending stupid emails, and doing whatever joyous thing it is that sandpipers do.

    Imagine that.