A Sandpiper to Bring you Joy

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This story ‘A Sandpiper to Bring You Joy’ caught my attention years ago and I have not forgotten it. Please allow me to share this story with you; one of the things this person mentions in this story is that ‘her life was out of balance.’ Well, for many of us that has a familiar ring; so do please read and while this story will not solve that for you it will help put things in perspective.

A Sandpiper to Bring you Joy

She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near my home. I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the world begins to close in on me. She was building a sand castle or something and looked up as I approached, her eyes blue as the sea.
“Hello,” she said. I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with anyone.

“I’m building,” she said.

“I see that. What is it?” I asked, with an obvious lack of interest.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied, “I just like the feel of the sand.”

How cheery, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided by.

“That’s a joy,” the child said.

“It’s a what?” I asked.

“It’s a joy! My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy.”

The bird went gliding down the beach. “Good-bye, joy,” I muttered to myself, and then, softly, “hello, pain…” I turned to walk on. I was depressed; my life seemed completely out of balance.

“What’s your name?” The girl stopped me; she wouldn’t give up.

“Ruth,” I answered dutifully. “My name is Ruth Peterson.”

“Mine’s Wendy,… and I’m six.”

“Hi, Wendy,” I offered.

She giggled. “You’re funny,” she said. In spite of my gloom I laughed too and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me. “Come again, Mrs. P,” she called. “We’ll have another happy day.”

The days and weeks that followed belonged to others a group of unruly Boy Scouts, countless PTA meetings, an ailing mother. The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands out of the dishwater. “I need a sandpiper,” I said to myself, grabbing my coat.

The never-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The sea breeze was chilly, but I strode resolutely along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed. I had forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.

“Hello, Mrs. P,” she said. “Do you want to play?”

“What did you have in mind?” I asked, with a twinge of annoyance.

“I don’t know. You say.”

“How about charades?” I asked sarcastically.

The tinkling laughter burst forth again. “I don’t know what that is.”

“Then let’s just walk,” I conceded, feeling a bit guilty. Looking at her, I noticed for the first time the delicate fairness of her face. “Where do you live?” I asked.

“Over there.” She pointed toward a row of summer cottages. Strange, I thought, in winter.

“Where do you go to school?”

“I don’t go to school. Mama says we’re on vacation.”

She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind was on other things. I finally told her that I needed to get back to my family at home. Looking at me, she said, wistfully, “But this has been such a happy day!” Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.

Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of near panic. I was in no mood to even greet Wendy. I saw the woman who must have been her mother on one of the cottage porches and felt like demanding that she keep her child at home.

“Look, if you don’t mind,” I said crossly when Wendy caught up with me, “I’d rather be alone today.” She seemed unusually pale and out of breath.

“Why?” she asked.

I turned on her and shouted, “Because my mother died!” and thought, my God, why was I saying this to a little child?

“Oh,” she said quietly, “then this is a bad day.”

“Yes, and so was yesterday and the day before that and — oh, go away!”

“Did it hurt?”

“Did what hurt?” I was exasperated with her, with myself.

“When she died?”

“Of course it hurt!” I snapped, misunderstanding, wrapped up in myself. I strode off.

A month or so after the short encounter, when I went again to the beach, Wendy wasn’t there. Feeling guilty and a bit ashamed and admitting to myself that I missed her, I went up to the cottage after my walk and knocked at the door. A drawn-looking young woman with honey-coloured hair opened the door.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today and wondered where she was.”

“Oh yes, Mrs. Peterson, please come in,” she said quickly, ushering me through the doorway. “Wendy talked of you so much. I’m afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was a nuisance, please accept my apologies.”

“Not at all — she’s a delightful child,” I said, suddenly realizing that I meant it. “Where is she?”

“Wendy died last week, Mrs. Peterson. She had leukemia. Maybe she didn’t tell you.”

Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. My breath caught.

“She loved this beach; so when she asked to come here, we couldn’t say no. She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called happy days. But these last few weeks, she declined rapidly….” The woman’s voice faltered.

“She left something for you…if only I can find it. Could you wait a moment while I look?”

I nodded stupidly, my mind racing for something, anything, to say to this lovely young woman.

When she returned, the woman handed me a smeared envelope with “MRS. P” printed across it in bold, childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues a yellow beach, a blue sea, a brown bird. Underneath the drawing was carefully printed


Tears welled up in my eyes, and a heart that had almost forgotten how to love opened wide. I took Wendy’s mother in my arms. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I muttered over and over, and we wept together.

The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in my study. Its message lies in but six words — one for each year of Wendy’s life — that speak to me of inner harmony, of courage, and of unconditional love. A gift from the child with sea-blue eyes and hair the colour of sand… the gift that restored life to my cold heart and opened my eyes to see the joy behind all things.

The story is attributed to: Mary Sherman Hilbert. For those of you who wish some explanation about this story here is a link which explains the origins of the story: http://www.snopes.com/glurge/sandpiper.asp

I have read this story a number of times. I came across it a few years ago when searching the internet for stories for a newsletter. To say the least it struck me in the heart. There are stories in which a person detects the sadness in another person but Mrs. Peterson, drowning in her own problems failed to realize that the little girl who sought her company was seriously ill. And that is one reason why I find this story irresistible. So often we are taken up with our own troubles and challenges that we do not notice that someone in our surroundings is suffering, in this case a sweet little girl.

She might have been more thoughtful had she known the child was suffering from a terrible disease.  Usually our problems and issues are so near to us that we cannot see the weight that others are carrying. And while we can clearly understand the pain she experienced in losing her mother we are given a chance to see how perhaps we disregard others who might be having even greater difficulties than ourselves; the child was dying. The story seems to suggest the necessity of trying to be aware of what others are experiencing.

And perhaps that is why the story in lives on the internet. Naturally when the child’s mother told her that the child had died she was stunned, guilt and sadness overcame her.

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