She was 6 years old the first time that I met her on the beach near my house. I always drive to this beach, which is about 5 or 6 kilometres away, when everything seems too much for me and the world seems to be falling apart around me. The girl was building a sandcastle or something similar, and happened to look 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 caring. "Oh, I don't know. I just like the feel of sand." she replied. That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided ny. "That's a joy" the child said. "My mama says that sandpipers come to bring us joy." The bird went gliding down the beach. "Goodbye joy, hello pain" I muttered to myself, and turned to walk on. I was depressed; my life seemed completely out of balance. "What's your name?" This girl just wouldn't give up.
Ruth. I am Ruth Petersen" I said.
"I'm Wendy. .. I'm six."
"Hello Wendy", I replied.
She giggled: "You're funny."
In spite of all of my gloom, I laughed too, and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me.
"Come again, Mrs. P," she called. "Then we can have another happy day."
"Hello! Do you want to play?"she asked.
"What did you have in mind?", I asked, with a twinge of annoyance.
"I don't know. You choose!"
"What about charades?" I asked sarcastically.
She burst with laughter: "I don't know what that is!"
"Then how about we just walk", I suggested. I noticed how beautiful her little face was. "Where do you live?", I asked.
"Over there", she pointed towards a row of summer houses.
Strange, I thought, in winter. "Where do you go to school?"
"I don't go to school. Mum says that we're on vacation." She continued to chatter the entire time we strolled along the beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left to go home Wendy said that it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.
I turned to her and shouted: "Because my mother died!" and thought, my god, why am I saying this to a little child?
"Oh", she said. "Then this is a bad day."
"Yes", I answered, "and so was yesterday and the day before and, oh ,go away!"
"Did it hurt?" she inquired.
"Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her, and with myself.
"When she died?"
"Of course it hurt!!!" I snapped, not understanding in my grief, and left.
About a month later, when I went to the beach, she wasn't there. I felt guilty, ashamed, and had to admit that I missed her. So I gathered up my courage and went up to the summer house after my walk, and knocked on the door. A drawn looking young woman with honey-coloured hair answered the door. "Hello", I said, "I'm Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today and was wondering where she is."
"Oh, of course, Mrs. Peterson, please come in. Wendy spoke of you often. I'm afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was ever a nuisance, please, accept my apologies."
"Not at all, she's a delightful child", I said, suddenly realising that I really meant it. "Where is she?"
"Wendy died last week, Mrs Peterson. She had leukaemia. Maybe she didn't tell you."
I was dumbstruck, and groped for a chair. The wind was knocked out of me.
"She loved this beach, so when she asked to come here, we couldn't say no. She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called happy days. The last few weeks however, she declined rapidly..." her voice faltered. "She left something for you... if I can just find it. Would you wait a moment while I look?"
I nodded stupidly, and my mind raced searching for something, anything, to say to this lovely young woman. She handed me a smeared envelope, with Mrs. P printed in bold, childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon colours: a yellow beach, a blue sea, and a brown bird. Underneath was carefully written:
"A sandpiper, to bring you joy"
Tears welled in my eyes, and my heart, that had almost forgotten how to love, burst open wide. I took Wendy's mother in my arms. "I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" I muttered over and over, and we wept together.
The special picture is now framed and hangs in my study. Six words - one for every year of her life - that tell me of harmony, courage, and unconditional love. A gift from a girl with sea blue eyes and hair the colour of sand - who gave me the gift of love.
This story really makes you stop and think. The last words are so important - above all, because you don't know when they'll be said. Little Wendy's message helped this woman to find, and see, the happiness and joy in her life.
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