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I can never decide which is worse—packing up for vacation, or unpacking after vacation. Packing is exciting because you are anticipating the fun activities you’ll do. Do you have your bathing suit? Your hat? Sunscreen? Towels? Most of all, what are you forgetting? There’s always something. The thought keeps nagging at you as you drive to your destination until you snap your fingers and think HA! My pillow! I forgot my pillow! Somehow, though, you make do.
Unpacking, however, is drudgery. The fun has happened. The weather was gorgeous. You were free from the normal struggles that pull at you from all directions. Here you are, staring at a suitcase full of damp clothes that need to be washed. There are bags all over the kitchen floor that need to be put away. You have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner because there is only a jar of pickles and mayo in the fridge. This was my state of mind after our vacation.
I picked up my beach bag to unpack it, accidentally dropping it and spilling it on the floor. An assortment of shells, sunscreen, an opened bag of trail mix, and sand, rushed all over the floor. Sighing, I picked up what I could, feeling the grit of the sand beneath my feet as I walked around the kitchen. I found my bag of shoes and, as I pulled them out, more sand sprinkled on the floor. I got the bag of damp bathing suits out and went outside to hang them on the line. Sand slid from every single one. Sand had worked its way in to everything from our trip, an annoying reminder of the fun we left behind.
Returning from vacation was particularly difficult this year, as I knew we would be returning in time for me to begin radiation treatments. I tried to recharge my “joy battery” as much as possible, knowing I would be drawing on its reserves for the rest of the summer. So far, the treatments have been just like that sand—an annoying, daily reminder that will be with me for a while. No matter how I vacuum or brush them off, I know I have to get up the next day and do it again.
I am trying to remember that sand is a wonderful thing, too. I love the challenge of walking in soft dry sand, feeling my muscles work as I cross over a sand dune toward the water. I love standing ankle-deep at the water’s edge, feeling my feet sink gradually deeper and deeper with each wave, eventually disappearing beneath the surface. I love sitting in my beach chair and digging trenches in the sand with my heels, burrowing down into the cooler, wetter sand beneath.
What I really love, however, is picking up shells that have been smoothed and shaped by the water and the sand. Sometimes, those shells look nothing like their original shape. For example, I picked up what I recognized as the interior of a conch shell, its spiral still intact, its outer shell and pointed horns broken off and worn away into little nubs. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a whole shell, it was still beautiful. I rubbed its creamy, peach-colored lip, marveling at its twirling center.
I, too, am being smoothed and shaped by my cancer experience. Remnants of the old me are still here, but I can feel how the “sands” of radiation treatments are polishing me and filing down some of the sharp edges of my spirit. I even have my own plastic container of sand that I gathered from the beach and brought home with me. That way, I can put my feet into it when I need it, to bring me joy, and to make me remember this time of learning.
Psalm 139 [NIV]
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.