Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. January. Alone that afternoon, walking on the beach. Putting a question out to the waves. One that has shadowed me all my life. What is my deepest calling and how do I use it to serve the world?
I was at a retreat and we were asking questions. It was the third day and we had built up to this big one.
I began my walk with trepidation as this question often stops me dead in my tracks like a scornful lover who teases and taunts. A judge perhaps. You’ve got all this potential, all these gifts. What are you going to do that’s BIG, that will change the world, that will even make one blip of a difference? I sucked in my breath, stated my question and started my walk. What is my deepest calling and how do I use it to serve the world? Yeah, what will you do with all that potential?
There on the beach I saw a small, white feather. Then another. I stood and watched the gulls. Is that where the answer would come? Would they tell me something? Anything? Nothing. I turned and walked away. There on the beach, I saw another small, white feather.
Funny, I thought. I hadn’t noticed feathers before. This was the fourth time I had walked the same stretch of beach, once looking for unbroken shells, once looking for shells “with character,” once finding shell after shell that looked like ears that made me laugh out loud since my question that day had to do with listening deeper.
I walked, hoping for some sign, some answer to this life-long question. I stooped and picked up a shell that looked like a foot. Will this lead to my path? And then a piece of an old, thick shell that had been worn smooth by the rock tumbler of ocean. Have my edges been smoothed? Made more gentle?
I saw another white feather.
OK, then. I’ll pick them up. One after another, I picked them up until I had a half dozen. I walked to the end of the strand and tossed the feathers into the breeze. I’m just a feather in the wind. What difference do I make?
As I turned to walk back, I saw a mother quietly sitting on the sand playing with her young son. The world outside did not exist, just this woman playing, paying attention, being in the moment.
How many moments did I lose because of this taunting lover/judge? The one who kept asking what BIG thing I would do with all that potential. I think I missed many small moments, waiting, wondering, agonizing over finding that big, important thing I was supposed to do with my life.
That morning we had heard a reading from Martin Luther King, Jr., and, while inspiring, that, too, was a measure I would never reach. Where is my passion? What will I give my whole life to? And grief swept over me as I thought about that mother and child playing in the sand, sharing a small moment, insignificant perhaps to the world, and all the world to that little boy. And I thought of MLK and the significant moments and actions that make a difference in the world. Big moments.
A small white feather helps a gull to fly, came a whisper from deep inside.
And was followed almost instantly by a line from a song: I will survive! I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give.
I walked back down the beach towards the house. I saw a man, his shirt off, nicely tanned. An Adonis walking barefoot at the edge of the roaring ocean. Then I saw the cord running from his waist to his ear. He wasn’t paying attention to the symphony of the ocean, he was plugged in. I wanted to shout at him, You’re missing it! And then a voice reminded me how often I had missed whatever IT was. How easily I could slip into that scornful lover/judge role myself. How easily I could miss the reflection in the mirror.
I got back to the house and plugged myself in long enough to find the words to that song and the answer to my taunting lover/judge.
As long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got all my life to live,
I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive.
I will survive!
The last feather I found was slightly larger. Not huge. Not small. Just right. I brought it home with me, tucked it into the pages of my journal, and let the words spoken to me that morning sink in: You are enough.