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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

A solitary walk at low tide at Deception Pass reveals not just the handiwork of the forces of nature, but also the evidence of human intrusion along the shore. Piles of driftwood from winter storms lie beached, creating worn wood barriers between sand and burgeoning dunes. Amidst the chaos of the storm tossed logs and branches, man-made forts dot the landscape in various stages of build and styles of architecture.

Passing by as I meandered alone along the low tide shore, I marveled at both the complexity and simplicity of the designs and, in some cases, the tenuousness of the driftwood structures.

But another part of me wondered, as my gaze shifted to the expanse of sand and sea, why we humans feel a need to improve upon the work of the forces of nature we cannot control?

Perhaps on some blistering summer day, a need for shade inspired the construction of one pyramid created from planks shaved and bleached by the rolling tide. Perhaps someone with fear of the dark tentatively shaped the sides of another with vast spaces in between.

Or perhaps it was simply a need to place our signature everywhere, to announce, “ I was here… I am significant.”

My solitary musing was interrupted by a young child who was carefully picking up rocks and delivering them to someone I suspected was a grandma carrying a small bucket. With each stone thrown in, grandma expressed delight, which provided all the encouragement this little girl needed to find more rocks. She, too, was finding significance as she ventured out and back, being rewarded for her efforts by grandma’s praise.

Passing them, I overtook a solitary woman also bending low, seeking treasures. She carried a small plastic bag, and I stopped to ask her about the contents. She looked up at me, her eyes clear and calm, her face weathered and brown.

“Sea glass,” she said holding the bag up to the light. “The sun makes it easy to see them. I am an artist, and I will take them home to create sculptures to share.”

Her face was relaxed and soft, and she fit this landscape of sea and stone as though it were her own. Wishing her well, I turned back to head for home, and after a few moments, I encountered once again the grandmother and the small girl. The girl was running across the sand towards one of the wooden forts, and when she stood in the entrance, she called her grandma over to her to bring the rocks.

“That’s a mighty heavy pail,” I joked with grandma as she trudged towards the fort and awaiting child.

“She’s been collecting rock treasures… but only the shiny ones.”

We exchanged those "knowing grandma" glances, and as I walked the gull saturated shore, it occurred to me that maybe I had missed some lesson entirely. Maybe this building of things on the shore was not a desire for attention after all. Maybe what cluttered these shores were sacred moments of creation and connection.

A family seeking rest from punishing summer suns built a driftwood fort and declared their shelter good, leaving it as a refuge for those who would come after. A little girl climbed into a driftwood doorway caressing carefully chosen shiny rocks from the shore and felt delight. And an artist with the bag of glass tumbled by the sea will return home to create a recycled masterpiece and experience joy in its creation.

So perhaps it is not a signature of significance we seek to leave on these shores after all. Perhaps we do this not for applause or accomplishment or prosperity, but simply to create. Perhaps we build driftwood forts, and become collectors of shiny rocks, and make art from frosted glass because on a cellular level, to do so brings us closer to the heart of God, who created it all.

And perhaps, just as God did, we then pause in delight and joy and, in the end, view what we have created and simply announce, “It is good.”

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

The two lane road that cuts through the Snohomish Valley is posted with a 35 mph sign. And really, why would you want to go faster than that? Every hundred yards are so are curves posted with 20 mph signs, so rushing really has no payoffs. It’s a sort of “hurry up and wait” scenario.

Besides, in the early morning of my week day travels, the sun is just now often cutting through the low lying fog, illuminating stalks of corn with shimmering tassels. Or the blueberry fields peek just above the fog in perfect unending rows across the valley. On one such morning, as I reveled in the growing rays of light, a car approached from behind and began to menace my back bumper. The driver floored the accelerator and passed a double yellow line, ignoring the safety of the oncoming traffic, only to come to rest in front of me at the red light.

Sitting directly behind the driver as we waited for the light to change, I must admit my sanctimonious feelings were at an all time high. After all, this driver had been so impatient, he had let his emotions take over. I am sure in his mind’s eye he was going to gain valuable time, and I wondered if he even noticed looking in his rear view mirror, that his efforts were folly. Or if he noticed my smug, self righteous smile.

That smugness disappeared when I encountered The Man Who Holds Up the Line. I first met him about five years ago in the elementary school drop off. In this drop off line, there are rules posted, the first of which is “Parents, do not get out of your car.” And yet every morning, The Man Who Holds Up the Line would get out of his car, walk around to his young son, and hug him deeply. As his son walked off, he would wave and call out, “I love you,” before getting back into his truck leaving staff and fellow parents frustrated.

Waiting in line to drop off my granddaughter as she resumed in-person school, I had assumed his children had graduated to middle school. So it was a surprise to me when this same morning, as the signal was given to release our children and grandchildren from our cars and move forward, that none of us could move. The Man Who Holds Up the Line was back with a new, young student..

I felt a rush of frustration flood into my body. Then it overflowed out of my mouth and hung in the air. My granddaughter and I bonded in our frustration with this parent who could not follow the rules…who seemed so oblivious to the needs of others… As we waited, our impatience multiplied and I could feel the tension increase in the car.

I hurriedly dropped her off and got back on to the road and was unexpectedly flooded with the memory of the Man in the Fast Car.

If The Man In The Fast Car were to meet an untimely end in this moment, his heart would be probably still be full of rage, indignation, and frustration at the slowness of the world.

But if The Man Who Holds Up The Line were to meet an untimely end, his heart would be full of relaxed, oblivious love. And if his child, God forbid, were to meet an untimely end, his heart would be full of the essence of being inconveniently loved with reckless abandon.

Which got me to thinking: how do I want to spend those last precious moments with my

granddaughter waiting in line? If my words are focused on my frustration with The Man Who Holds Up the Line, then what she learns from me is that following rules is more important than stealing small moments of love. If I complain about the time lost, what she learns from me is that a schedule is more important than taking that extra time to show love. If my last few minutes, with her are spent expressing frustration, she only learns impatience instead of just abiding in each precious moment together..

So, I hope I get stuck behind The Man Who Holds Up The Line tomorrow and every day. And if I do, I want to say to my beautiful, thoughtful granddaughter, “I am so glad he is holding up the line…I get to spend a little more time with you.”

Maybe in the waiting, we can tell jokes or play games.. Maybe in the waiting we can share dreams about the future, both hers and mine. And maybe in the waiting , I can learn to practice inconvenient, oblivious, reckless love in the opportunities provided by The Man Who Holds Up the Line.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

This summer a small stalk of corn announced its presence in the corner of my driveway while I was weeding the cracks of the summer weed invasion. This driveway, rife with sunken cracks near its entry, provides slivers of dry, dusty dirt into which various weeds cast their roots and cling to life.

No amount of weeding eradicates them permanently. Two thousand pound cars cannot crush the life out of them. It is as though they flatten against the pressure of all the forces that seek to destroy them.

Weeds simply have claimed this territory.

But a stalk of corn? For years, I have tried to actually grow corn in the few patches of soft soil that exist on the hard pan upon which our home is built. To no avail. And then, untended and unplanned, a corn stalk emerged in one of the cracks of the driveway.

The first few days, I fought a need to pull it out, perhaps simply because of the incongruence of its presence amidst the riffraff of growing things. But then, my science background called me to simply observe and take note, having already determined the hypothesis: Left untended and unwatered, this stalk would wither and die.

But in the heat of summer, a suggestion of two ears slowly began to form. I watched them when they first surfaced on the smooth stalk in their infancy. Leaving my home each morning, I noted in the changing light of sunrise how they fattened and spread. And I reveled in their growth and cheered them on like a mother watching her own child take those first wobbly steps.

The corn stalk simply refused to surrender to my hypothesis. Rather than death and decay, this corn stalk, its tassels lengthening, now brought a tantalizing promise of an impossible harvest.

Emily Dickinson once wrote that “Hope is a thing with feathers.” Though I have been drawn to this image for decades, there is something about the metaphor that makes hope seem so illusory and transitory. In the comparison, hope seems fragile and torn from its moorings, like a ship at sea. Hope becomes something just beyond our grasp as it floats on the vagaries of life’s breezes.

Not for me.

Hope is this corn stalk, tenaciously clinging to nothing more than a whisper of soil between asphalt and concrete. This hope commands attention as it stretches ever more closely to the sun. This hope announces, “I am here…strong, vibrant…persevering.”

Life is like this, I think. Not the blooming carefully tended flower boxes bursting with color and confined to their design. Not the well tilled soil of a backyard garden. Not the geometrical rows of a farmer’s field.

No, life is an errant piece of corn carried in a breeze or dropped carelessly from a pocket or carried in the debris deposit of a passing crow.

Life is this: a stalk of corn stretching towards the sun, taking sustenance from the tiniest source of nourishment and declaring hope as it clings to barren places.

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