This month, I met my nephew, his best friend, and my two cousins in San Diego for the California King Tides. While the term “King Tide” isn’t a scientific term, it’s used to describe very high tides caused when there is an alignment of the gravitational pull between the sun, moon, and Earth. It’s a rare event, usually only once or twice a year, and my brother Mike loved to drive from Arizona to San Diego to see them. So, as a way to honor his passing, we decided to meet for the weekend and have a ceremony of sorts.
The weather was brisk, clear, and sunny. The tides were high, wild, and stunning. We started with an outdoor lunch in La Jolla and then walked along the bluff overlooking Seal Cove. As we strolled along, we came upon a secluded and pristine beach that we were unable to reach. There were two people, perhaps a mom and her daughter from what we could tell at a distance, playing in the sand. My cousin, inspired by her usual wackiness and complete lack of caring about what others would think of her, leaned over the railing and called out to them over the roar of the waves.
“We’re having a ceremony!” she yelled. “Could you write the name MIKE in the sand for us?” They looked up, and she repeated the request, this time feeling the need to spell out his name.
“Can you spell M-I-K-E for us?” She gestured wildly with her arms, drawing his name in the air like a long-lost wizard. She definitely had their attention. We held our breath as they leaned in to confer.
A few heartbeats passed. Would her emotional plea carry enough weight over the bluff top for these two strangers to understand the depth of her request?
Slowly, the two figures moved out of view, and I thought, Well, that’s it. They are going to ignore us. After all, it is a strange request and will interrupt their plans on this beautiful beach.
But then, they emerged with two sticks and moved toward the water. The mom began to gesture to her daughter, planning their writing project with a care that brought tears to my eyes.
They dug a stick into the sand and moved from the edge of the waves to the rocky cliffs. The first line of the M took shape. Oh my god, I whispered, this Mike will be much larger than we thought.
For the next few minutes, we stood there watching as they etched his name in the sand, somehow stumbling on the straight line of the I, which seemed completely appropriate if you knew my brother and the non-linear, off-kilter life he led. Perhaps his spirit was guiding them.
When they finished, we cheered loudly and yelled our thanks, which didn’t seem enough, but would have to do. We moved on to watch the sun set over the tidepools at Ocean Beach and completed our ceremony as we said our goodbyes to Mike.
Reflecting on the day, I wished I knew their names so I could thank them in person, but that’s the thing about receiving a gift of kindness from strangers. The act was done willingly. It was acknowledged deeply. It was fleeting and temporary, soon to be washed away, revealing pristine sand once again, waiting for another act of spontaneous connection. It was an act we will carry with us for a very long time. It was an act of kindness I intend to pay forward.
On the plane ride home, I realized the Universe wasn’t done with me yet. I came across this poem that put everything into perspective. Of course, being a writer, I had to add my own last line as a coda at the end.
~ ~ ~
Small Kindnesses by Danusha Lameris
(For a real treat, listen to Helena Bonham Carter’s reading)
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
~ ~ ~
Or, in our case, “Yes, we will write your brother’s name in the sand for you.”