At the end of last year, I decided to enter a short story contest. Being a published author is something that’s currently on my radar screen and pulsing through my veins, so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to dust off the keyboard, sharpen the pencils, and put something out there. Compiling a compelling story in less than 1,500 words was a tremendous challenge for me, but I am so glad that I rose up and gave it a shot.
My story was not a winner. According to the publication, there were thousands upon thousands of entries. And that makes me happy because we ALL have a story to tell and our voices and our words have the power to change the world. The winners must be so proud and feel such a sense of accomplishment!
I am attaching my story below. Just as a reminder to all of you to put yourselves out there. To use your voices. And, to be open to life’s many lessons in whatever way you are able to learn them.
Be bold. Take chances. Discover your gifts. Use them. You are amazing. And, I am on your side.
Enjoy the journey–
P.S. The story below is fictional. But, I can definitely relate — after all, I birthed it. 🙂
P.P.S. This is still my intellectual property and copyrighted material. Just thought that was worth mentioning for anyone unfamiliar with those things. I don’t mind if you share as long as you credit the source.
Salt Water Redemption
Copyright © Jennifer Pipe 2013
After a brief, unsettled night’s sleep, Ella awoke to find the other side of the bed still unoccupied. Given the verbal warfare between Sam and her last night, she wasn’t surprised. They were at an impasse and she wondered where he had spent the night.
The emptiness of their bed swallowed her whole. She dragged herself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. The reflection staring back in the mirror was definitely not her own. Missing were the impeccable facial features that she took for granted. Her characteristically radiant complexion had given way to blotchy, tear-stained cheeks and bloodshot eyes, the corners of her mouth permanently sagging under the weight of her sadness. Despite her modest revulsion, she gazed long and hard at the stranger staring back at her. Desperate for answers, she implored her likeness to help figure out when things had gone so terribly wrong.
Ella knew she was running. What she couldn’t figure out was whether she was running towards a yet unidentified calling or away from the dregs of her existing life. She had been dealing with moodiness and melancholy for longer than she cared to remember and it was weighing her down like cinderblocks on her psyche. Ella had been anchored to this life for well over a decade with a thankless career, humdrum marriage, decaying friendships, and a borderline exercise addiction, which “kept her mind off of things.” Lost, swirling, seeking, she knew she needed to take action and accept responsibility for her life.
Countless hours of conventional therapy had failed her and she was no longer relatable to her peers. Deep down she knew she needed to head to “her” place today, the place where enlightenment never eluded her. She decided to seek consolation in the arms of nature. Silencing her cell phone, she grabbed a few essentials and headed to the ocean – the place where she knew she would find answers.
For Ella, there had always been a catharsis when she was around salt water. Her stress would dissipate, her muscles would relax, and she could freely set her deepest secrets loose on the choppy seas and brisk breeze. It was where she went for comfort, introspection, and to recharge her batteries. She thought about calling a friend for moral support, but decided she didn’t want company on this trip – in much the same way that people of certain faiths seek solitude when in prayer. As lonely as this year had been, she knew she had to ride this low out alone.
As Ella made the ninety-minute trip to the shore, she pondered what answers she would garner from salt, sand, and seagulls. Could the place she retreats to when life gets unbearable help her to be more present and grounded in everyday life?
She pulled her car into the deserted parking lot, leaving her phone in the glove compartment, and exited into the balmy late-season air with a newfound resolve and a promise to listen. For at least today, she vowed to not over-think, to not question, and to not argue. As she walked, she readied herself for the communication that might arrive via tidal current, whispers on the wind, or rejuvenating rays of sunshine.
She found a quiet spot next to the jetty and simply sat for a while. Eyes closed, she soaked up the sun and felt her stress melting away. Ella contemplated why she was so drawn to the sea and whether or not the ocean would teach her any lessons that she could apply to her broken life.
After a few peaceful minutes, Ella had her first epiphany. The ocean just IS. The ocean never apologizes for what it is or what it does, and it definitely doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. The ocean doesn’t masquerade as a mountain, a desert, or a lighthouse just to please. Day in and day out, being the ocean is enough. Ella realizes that she wants to possess a similar strength of character. She wants to be Ella – broken, imperfect, enchanting – and for that to be enough. She wants to be a magnet for people that love her for her.
As she had hoped, the first lesson from the ocean arrived loud and clear. She had finally been ready, and teachers from implausible sources started to appear.
A few majestic sailboats on the horizon provided the second lesson of the day. Boats leave port with a destination in mind, but are forced to adjust their sails to accommodate for changes in wind direction or currents. Boats might get slightly off target when battling adverse conditions, but with adaptability, they always arrive at their destination. Ella realized that adaptability is a character trait that she desperately needed to develop. She knew there would always be challenges in her life, but like a mariner, she knew she’d be able to navigate them better if she continuously kept her final destination in mind without getting too far off course.
From the tides, she learned a valuable lesson in commitment. Every day, there are high tides and low tides. There is never a half-assed or medium tide. Outside forces might influence the tides in small ways, but never prevent the tides from coming. The tides know what they have to do and they do it. Ella bets there has never been a tide in the history of tides that has doubted itself. There is an ebb and flow to the tides; a give and take, a yin and yang. She could learn a few things about obligations and integrity from the tides.
The swarming and bickering seagulls had always been Ella’s least favorite part of the beach, but as she watched them in flight, she remained open to learning from them. Seagulls, she discovered, are opportunists as well as thieves. When they see an open door, in the form of stealing a lunch or cracking open a crab, they always take it. There have also been quite a few resourceful seagulls that have created an open door when one previously did not exist. And, most impressively, seagulls soar! Ella loved the possibility of unlimited opportunities and soaring! Surely, learning from lowly seagulls was an indicator of her transformation. She really was starting to feel like a new woman.
As low tide approached, Ella strolled along the shore to see if the ocean would cough up any treasures especially for her. It didn’t take long before she found her first piece of sea glass. Sweet, precious sea glass! As she gently caressed the cobalt nugget between her thumb and forefinger, she had one of the most profound thoughts of the day. Sea glass is born shiny and new, like all of us. Then that fresh, jagged piece of glass meets the salty water and goes on the journey of a lifetime. It gets swept up in currents, jostled along the sand, and bashed by rocks. By the time the ocean spits it out on the shore, just like the piece in her hand, it has undergone a massive transformation. It is after that painful and tumultuous journey when the sea glass possesses its greatest character. Like a diamond born from coal, it becomes unique, increasingly beautiful, weathered, and treasured. It dawns on Ella that life’s trials and tribulations don’t have to leave her jagged and raw. If she is accepting of and open to the voyages, they can soften her and make her safer to hold, like a piece of beautiful sea glass.
As Ella drove home, exhausted from the events of the past few days –years, actually – she felt grateful for the perspective so generously gifted to her by the ocean. With her heart and mind finally open, the answers were able to flow freely. The day’s lessons in character, adaptability, commitment, resourcefulness, and acceptance were paving the way for a new, improved Ella. For the first time ever, with an apology for Sam on her lips, she realized it was time to take control of her life. She felt empowered, alive, and ready to take on the world, even if it meant going it alone for a while. Ella was delighted that she hadn’t given up before her miracle of self-discovery. She felt immense gratitude for her salt-water redemption, aware of the massive difference that a day can make.