I had asked: "Please can you send me a pebble?"
Some days, I feel broken like a wave is broken. Not damaged, just scattered. The kind of lonely that makes you feel stretched so thin, you stop being able to see yourself. I see very few people week to week, month to month, and although I love my solitude, it is hard. One best friend lives half a mile away but two others live at long distances and I am stuck here, and so my days revolve around texts back and forth as we attempt to share days apart.
Joe lives next to a Cornish beach which he walks every day in all weathers, new freckles on his face each time I see it. Every day, he sends me photos or videos of big skies and grey water pushing on and on, distances I struggle to hold in my head in my cramped Midlands' estate. He has an uncanny way of timing them to arrive when I feel most caged, most hungry for roaming - that sudden squeezing panic of cabin fever - and I breathe them in, renewed. But that day it hadn't been enough. I had wanted a piece of it to hold. I had wanted something more real than I felt.
An envelope arrived within the week. It was addressed with round, careful letters as familiar to me as a spoken name, and in it, the smoothest, whitest pebble. To press my thumb to it leaves a narrow halo of white. I put it in my pocket and have carried it with me ever since.
Talisman. I reach for it now and do the same over and over throughout the day, soothing myself in the repetitive, uncomplicated way that children soothe themselves. Sometimes my fingers find it icy; other times, it is inexplicably pulsing with warmth. It has its own private moods and I wonder if it is still joined to the tide that tumbled it somehow, reflecting that faraway edge. It is a link to a bigger life, to something wild and simple.
Talismans help on bad days. They are portable memory and meaning, a tether to something or someone. They are a gift to sing over, like a medicine woman would. Sometimes we determinedly, stubbornly pour power into something. Other times it seems to exist before you, despite you. It doesn't matter in either case. You know a talisman when they find you.
I rub my thumb against it and try to picture the atoms of it, impossibly compressed into something still and enduring. My small new companion has been squeezed and heated beyond imagining, rising, sinking, reforming, tumbled across millennia, all to end up a white star in my best friend's gaze on the right day, in the right place, when I needed it most. If such things are possible, then anything is.
Holding it brings a sudden knowing. I can sit here and the whole world can find its way to me. Endless atoms and molecules, decaying, circling, renewing. Water, stone, flower, cloud, leaf, bird. Who knows what they were before, but they're here now. There is no need to be a tourist. I can see every building block of this life if I simply sit right here and wait for it to appear and know it when it does. And I can do that, I can. I am patient and watchful enough. I am kind enough to not see anything as unimportant. And wouldn't there be good company in that? In me entertaining the whole of existence come to visit?
Maybe if I sit still long enough, I can be an axis around which every wonder spins.
Try thinking these thoughts and still feeling small and alone, I dare you.
"How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child--
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”
by Rainer Maria Rilke, from Book of Hours: Love Poems to God