The Power of a Tiny Sand Dollar

It was a beautiful day in Mendocino, the sun beaming, the breeze blowing softly. Stephen and I were at the beach with our granddaughters, strolling along the shore, watching the waves crest and break about 250 feet out. Poppy was gathering abalone shards from the sand, marveling at the rainbows of color on the shells; Amelie was sprinting up and back, exuberantly kicking up sand with her feet as she ran. It was a perfect moment: Stephen and I, with our two beautiful granddaughters, in a gorgeous setting, the Pacific glistening to my left, smooth white sand stretching out before us, the sky a clear blue etched with cirrocumulus clouds, a few yards off dogs chasing balls, running in circles, or sitting contentedly beside their guardians.

With so much to appreciate and be grateful for, and two granddaughters vying for my attention, it was difficult to focus on any one thing. The scene and the experience seemed, to be quite honest, a bit large, its components pulling me in multiple directions.

And then, a man walking on my right, closer to the ocean, called to me, “Want to see a tiny sand dollar?”

I had noticed him earlier, heavy, youngish; had noticed his long, straggly beard, the high-domed baseball cap he had pulled down over his forehead, a sweatshirt that read “Patriots,” behind which his stomach bulged. And, I have to confess, I had dismissed him as somebody with whom I shared very little.

As I began walking toward him, he thrust his hand toward me. “Look!” he exclaimed.

There it was, a perfectly formed sand dollar, the size of a dot, cradled in his fleshy palm.

“Gosh,” I said, “I had no idea they started out so small.”

“This is the second one I’ve found today,” he beamed.

At that moment, something sifted for me. Everything else receded—Stephen, my granddaughters, the crashing waves, the sand, the clouds and sky. This man, the tiny dot in his hand and I were all that existed. This man I had dismissed as “other,” had sensitized himself as he walked along, to something exquisitely small. And he had shared his discovery with me. Within seconds, this stranger had morphed from “other” to brother. Here was somebody who knew how to search for small—and find it. Here was somebody so excited by the power of small that he wanted to share that power with me.

In that moment, a stranger, a man I had pushed into the “other” category and I forged a relationship–over a miniscule sand dollar. A relationship that by all appearances, lasted one minute, but in reality, endures days later. A relationship that retaught me one of the largest truths possible: we are all human, and if we are open, we will discover that none of us are strangers. Every two of us shares something deep, not only because we are all human, but because we live together on this beleaguered earth.

Welding Line


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