I love to pray at the beach, staring out at the surf and the pelicans . . . – Anne Lamott
The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean I was in Los Angeles with S, and pelicans were sailing above the waves in ribbons. As I stood with my feet in that grimy sand, I watched over and over again as one by one they pointed straight down and dove, without slowing, into the water. I watched, breathless, to see when each would resurface, a shimmering fish in its mouth.
It was this vision that called to me when I moved to California a few years later.
There, north in San Francisco, I rose very early and walked into the Sea Cliff neighborhood – the place of mansions on tiny lots – and sat in front of Robin Williams’ house to look out over the water that joined ocean to Bay – the blessed Golden Gate that gets confused with its bridge further inland.
Each morning, I prayed there breathless again at the sight. Sometimes, the pelicans came, sliding across a band of air just above the water, their wings outstretched. All their awkwardness lost to grace.
In the wake of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, we want to do something. We want to change laws or defend our positions or blame. We feel powerless, and we don’t like powerless. We cringe against it and squirm. But, in this, we are powerless: we have lost 27 people, and we don’t understand it. We should not be able to understand this because it makes no sense.
Children killed. Teachers become shields. A man unstable and violent who didn’t get the help he needed. Parents devastated. A community battered.
In time, we will – I pray – find things we can do, the places we can dive head-first and make a difference. Laws we can change and people we can love more firmly and truly. Casseroles to bake and conversations to have. We will find the way we can act.
But for now, we grieve, and if we can let ourselves, grief can be a kind of gliding. We can let ourselves be carried.
I want to be like a pelican. To soar on that ribbon of wind and just keep my eyes open. Even to trust that I can close my eyes sometimes because what I see is too much to bear. Follow that line of air for a while, lifted up just enough that I do not drown. When it’s time for me to dive, I will see the silver of scale, and I will dive. But until then, I just want to ride that wind and feel the water slide from beneath my skin like tears.
May the families of Sandy Hook find comfort. May we all find peace.