(Here are a couple of stories from my newspaper column in the Island Times.)
Today on my walk, I came upon some itty-bitty footprints, a toddler’s, I assume. They were perfect little “Hang Ten” feet like that ubiquitous logo from the ‘70s I loved so much. The sweet little feet were pointing toward the Gulf, but I followed them for a few paces away from the water and toward the street until they suddenly disappeared.
It made me think of that lovely old poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” but from an entirely different perspective.
The original allegory, perhaps inspired by a passage from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 1:31), retrospectively describes a believer’s journey through life with God, symbolized by a walk along the beach together. She looks back over the path their footprints illustrate and is troubled by the realization that during the most difficult times of her life, the trail dwindles to only one set of footprints.
She cries out, much like Jesus himself did—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me—to which He answers: “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
This is such a gripping allegory about holy protection and support in times of heartache and loss. But the toddler toes I followed this morning brought to mind an entirely different way to look at footprints and our walk with the Divine.
These little footprints appeared abruptly, as if out of nowhere, about ten yards from the shore break. Someone had been carrying this child to the water but had let him/her down as they got close. At first the little feet were contained within a sort of parenthesis of bigger feet. And then, they were off! Messy little footprints dashing all the way down to the tiny waves rolling in. I smiled when I imagined this toddler’s glee as he/she explored, perhaps for the first time, the shore of our lovely beach. You go, little guy! I love your adventurousness.
I bet it was a little bit “cooey”—the word Taylor used (when he was about three) to describe that delicious mix of scary and cool. But the bigger footprints were never far behind. They never are.
I look back on the metaphorical beachwalk of my own life. There is no doubt that I have been carried in times of great distress. But that’s not the only time I feel inspired to acknowledge the presence of divinity in my journey. How often have I been carried to the very edge of my comfort zone—then encouraged to play, or explore, or simply trust?
The sky this morning at dawn illustrated a metaphor so compelling I just can’t stop thinking about it. I snapped this picture of it with my iPhone, but photos never seem to do such magnificence justice. I tried to describe it in writing, but, alas, words are even more futile in the face of such beauty. (But that’s never stopped me before, so bear with me, if you will.)
It was one of those mornings when I didn’t know which way to gape. The full moon to the west was so bright I had to squint. The shorebirds were half-crazed over the bait fish roiling the water. There were so many seashells at my feet, I couldn’t take a step without crushing a sand dollar or coquina. And to the east—oh my!
Storms on the horizon, in heavy drapes, distant and dark. The surface of the Gulf was choppy, with sinister rip currents below. And the right half of the sky was a deeply bruised crag of cumulonimbus clouds.
And yet, just adjacent to that black bluff—blue-eye sky, bright and clear, like birdsong.
And this truth occurred to me: It’s not that things will get better; it’s that they already are. You just have to know where to focus your gaze. This has been true for me for my entire life. I am only just now getting it.
I’m not suggesting that life’s bleak moments, its storms and adversities, can be imagined away by a simple shift in perception. Or maybe I am—sort of. It’s not so much a matter of wishing it all away, as it is of standing back and taking it all in, the whole sky, not just the part that’s scary, or sad, or inconvenient. That is so much easier said than done, but it’s worth a try. Because when something goes “wrong” in my life—something as trivial as a flat tire or as devastating as the loss of a loved one—there is always an adjacent sky.
It’s not that things will get better; it’s that they already are.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532