someone to hold on to
We wind our way along Pier 60 just as the sun dips, melting gold right into the ocean. I stand a moment and just breathe, watching the way the waves rise, wind-shaped right out of the glass sea. The pier is a flurry of activity as the city gears up for a festival on the beach. Mounds of sugary white sand sit ready for sculpting just outside an expansive tent. Just a short distance away, a man in a broad lemon-yellow sun hat carves a valley around a sand-built shark; the sharp fin rising from the beach. The breeze pulls back a flap of the tent, and I catch sight of a ceiling lit with twinkle lights like stars, some tiny, some big bright orbs. We pass by a mermaid poised on a short bench, maybe a cooler draped with a bit of burlap, and I can’t help but imagine the cramps in her arms after such a day. She wears glittery eye makeup carefully lined in fairytale angles, elegant and smooth. Beside her, the quick-sketched cardboard sign seems out of place. Pictures and posts, tips accepted. She flicks her tail lightly up as we pass. A short way further, a swarthy pirate who looks a lot like Jack Sparrow calls out greetings, asking names, turning them into gruff pirate monikers. Jesus calls the guilty pardoned, but this guy, he calls us all criminals in fun. His pantaloons billow in the cool of the evening coming.
Along the pier, booths clutter the walkway, perched on the weathered wood. Shopkeepers sell handmade things—bracelets woven from hemp, slices of some downed tree turned into oil lamps, soap that smells like cherry cobbler. We meander, pausing in odd places, all of us salt-glazed and as weathered as the pier itself. The path is thick with people, some bare-shouldered, bathing suit damp; others in crisp khaki and linen, earrings glinting like the sunlit sea. Kevin and I naturally find each other, and I slip my hand into his as we walk. Our children stay close, and that for me is one of the beautiful things about our relationship now. They’re old enough to walk through a crowd without our hands clamped to their wrists, although sometimes when it’s thick like this, I do still reach for Adam’s shoulder. He’s never far away, especially in a place so busy with information.
Riley feels anxious. I sense it before I see it with my own eyes—the erratic way she weaves behind us, trying first to walk just there, close enough to keep up but not so close as to trample our heels. She shifts out beside Kevin, trying to walk beside him, but quickly discovers that the pier is just too narrow for that with all the booths. She moves in front of us, but immediately dislikes the lack of a solid view of either of her parents. She has learned not to be obvious about her discomfort, but I can see the way she flicks her head back every few seconds, tossing that light-soaked hair, assessing her distance from the rest of us. Of all of my three, she cares most about getting it right–anything, everything–and about doing so without burdening anyone else. For a moment my heart aches, absorbing how untethered she feels, how unsure of the path before her.
This is a family adventure. We’re blessed to be here together–not just the five of us, but aunt and uncle, nephews, grandpa. “Walk with your Opa,” I say quietly, winking at her, jutting my chin toward where he ambles just a few feet in front of us. He has a slight limp that is unmistakable, even in a crowd of people. “He’d like that.”
“Huh?” Opa says, looking back, hearing his name.
“Riley needs someone to hold on to,” I call, and she nods, taking up my thought.
“Yea, I need someone to hold on to,” she says, suddenly delighted, looping her arm through his. He smiles as they settle into step with one another. Their light, easy conversation floats back to me in the wind as we pass vendors selling leather belts and moccasins, photos of waves and sea reeds, wind chimes made of tinkling seashells. As we amble on, I can’t help but think about how we all sometimes feel waves of insecurity whip up; how life can leave us feeling untethered and unsure; how desperately sometimes we all just need someone to hold onto, a solid arm through which to loop a suddenly tender one. Like Riley, we’ve all learned to cover over our desperate difficulty, and sometimes we just swerve around unsettled, never putting it to words, trying to figure out where to walk.
But God knows before we ever dig our heels in that sand that the whole situation will make us feel shaken. He’s always one step ahead of us. It’s Jesus we hold on to really, and His arm is the solid arm of another pilgrim traveling just ahead. “Walk with her; hang on to him,” God says, and it’s not that the other person is steadier or more sure of what’s ahead, just that right then they’re more comfortable with the path.
He strengthens my arms today so that tomorrow someone else can hold onto me.
Riley’s laughter sounds like a song, like sweet notes dancing in the salty breeze. I watch her lean into her Opa, her hair long, brassy ribbons flying. Joy at the sight of their mutual encouragement replaces the aching sadness I felt watching her struggle, and I give thanks, turning again to watch the light change over the vast, silvery sea.