BY LISA VERSPRILLE BURKETT
SANDBRIDGE — Recently we lost two close family friends. One was 27 years old, and the other was 87. As I write this, my mother is in the hospital battling an illness that affects many seniors in the later years of life.
Like many of my associates in their 50s and 60s, death suddenly seems to occupy a large amount of our thoughts as we face the departure of mostly older friends and family. The onset of our own health issues also gives pause to reflect on the meaning of life and death, our time on earth and the diseases of the mind and body.
So with all these heavy thoughts to contemplate, I walked to the beach. Not many people around.
And yet I met a friend.
As I sat at the water’s edge, with broken seashells I had collected, a boy of about eight ran in front of me, splashing water in my direction. As the surf receded, he bent down to look at something in the sand, then looked up at me. He had short, brown hair and fair skin that hadn’t seen much sun. His red bathing suit was only wet from running in the surf.
Behind me, about 50 yards away, sat what I assumed were his parents, a lady with her hair in a bun wearing sunglasses perched on a towel and a heavy set man sitting on a chair reading a newspaper. The boy saw my collection of shells. He plopped down next to me to inspect my selections.
These are broken, he said. Didn’t you find any good ones?
I explained I like the broken ones because I make seashell picture frames.
He looked at me quizzically. I said I glue the broken shells to the frame based on their color, and I demonstrated. See? When you wash off the sandy pieces, the colors are really beautiful.
He took a piece and stuck it in the surf at our feet. He nodded and turned the clean shell piece over in his hand.
I asked if those were his parents behind us. Yeah, he said, we live in North Carolina. Then he told me that he couldn’t get in the water because his dad was sick.
Picturing his father with a cold, I told the little boy that maybe tomorrow his dad could go swimming with him. He shook his head, said his father can’t go in the water. That he only wants to look at it.
I looked back at his parents. The little boy’s mother asked loudly if he was bothering me.
No, I yelled back, as I waved my hand, not at all! Then very matter of fact, gazing at the shells, the boy said his father had cancer.
I thought about that for a second.
I know a lot of people that have had cancer, I told him. My mom had cancer twice, but she is doing pretty well.
He jumped up and ran down the water line looking for something. He found a shell piece and brought it back to me. Was this good? I told him that was a real good one. He ran to look for more.
You have to think that life was designed for the energy of youth. No matter what is happening around them, they carry an innate desire to thrive and push forward. We eventually come to the realization that we are here to leave a legacy. Our job is to tell others what we have experienced so the next generation can listen and be better for knowing.
All of us are given an opportunity to live a purposeful life. Sometimes we get 27 years, sometimes 87.
My young friend ran back to his mother. His father was no longer on the beach.
I walked down the beach. I saw my feet leaving imprints in the wet sand. When I turned around to look at my path, the water had washed my footprints away.
Death comes to all of us, and we float above the ocean. The very young jump in to take our place.
I held this image in my mind while I walked home with pieces of shells in my pockets.
Lisa Versprille Burkett manages a magazine for seniors and lives in Sandbridge.