Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pennies From Heaven

Sand Dollars
Originally uploaded by

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day, which prompted an outing with the kids for some more beach jogging. At first we did some power walking, my daughter, my youngest son and me. Then after a while Remy and I bid Arianne adieu, and took off running. It comes with mixed feelings that I say that Remy is the only one of my three kids who can keep up with me in the running department. It probably speaks more to the lack of conditioning for the older two kids, than my prowess as a 50 year old.

When ever Remy and I do our running along the shore, we are constantly scanning the sand for sea treasures. As noted in a prior post, our most coveted find was a pristine white sand dollar, in perfect condition. Sand dollars have a special meaning for us, as my late husband/partner, Michael, had a collection of sand dollars he found scatter throughout the shore on such a day. He had spoken of that day feeling quite magical, like he had come upon a bounty of treasure. As Remy and I ran further down the beach we both eyed a perfect sand dollar sitting on the sand, just like our last adventure. We picked it up, carefully dusted it off, and examining it for any imperfections, then exclaimed how fortunate we were. Remy held it in his hands, and we quickly picked up our pace.

We were running a few yards further when we saw another sand dollar, then another. Soon we were finding ourselves surrounded by sand dollars. Unfortunately, many of them were cracked by the ocean's crashing waves, and others may have been trampled on by other runners. Before we knew it, we were spending more of our time picking up sand dollars, and inspecting them, than getting our afternoon running done.

Ever since we began spending more time at the beach, I have been reading about our various finds, to try to have a better understanding about the sea, and all that I just take for granted. Much of my reading has been about the sand dollar, which has become a fun little obsession of mine. Today I decided to search google for stories related to the sand dollar. Most of what I found was a story used, and told, by evangelicals about the death and resurrection of Jesus. While that story has a purpose, it wasn't what I was necessarily looking for.

In searching further I came across this story, that really made me smile.

Making a Difference

An old man was strolling along a beach one day. In the distance he saw a young boy and girl reach down, pick something up and throw it back into the sea.

Drawing nearer, he saw that the sand was littered with thousands of small stranded sand dollars. The children were patiently picking them up, one at a time, and returning them to safety below the water.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Saving sand dollars," replied the children as they continued about the job at hand.

The old man, somewhat jaded by age, thought the children's actions were futile.

"But the beach is littered with dying sand dollars. What possible difference can you make by doing this?"

The young girl bent over, picked up another, and threw it with all her might. With a plop the sand dollar sank safely below the water. Then, turning to the old man, she said with all the wisdom of a child:

"I made a difference for that one."

Sand Dollars 2008
Originally uploaded by

This is a lovely story. I like the idea that we can make a difference with such little effort. In attempting to make a difference, we don't have to always do it on a large scale. Sometimes doing something for just one in mind, or in the case of the story, for one at a time, can make a significant difference. For those of us who are mourning, we know the difference one person's efforts can make. That difference can be as simple as a telephone call, a letter sharing a favorite memory of our loved one, or just giving the gift of your company and open ear. What I have found is that in someone making that difference for me, or in my attempt to make that difference for others, many others who are observing and reading about this exchange can also benefit. In the end, the one small gesture has a way of paying forward to many others.

What many don't realize is that there are so many people out there who struggle, including the widowed, who could use a helping hand. Grief has a way of sucking the life right out of you. The smallest of tasks can take an enormous amount of energy, and if you have spent most of your day grieving, your energy is completely zapped. This takes me right back to the sand dollar. What many do not realize is that the sand dollars we find along the shore are merely the test (shell), the skeletal remains of an animal that is no longer living. The life of a sand dollar is not the easiest. It has some significant challenges that other sea creatures simply take for granted.

For example:

Righting is a behavior we take for granted. This is simply the method an animal uses to turn itself over if tipped upside down. For animals covered in shells, exoskeletons or, like echinoderms, a rigid internal skeleton, righting itself isn’t an easy task. Sea stars simply bend their arms under the body to flip themselves over, and sea urchins use the tube feet that extend past the spines. For the sand dollar this is much more difficult and may take up to a half hour. An overturned sand dollar uses the spines to dig its anterior end of the body into the sand. This continues until the animal is rotated and turned right side up. On a solid surface, like on the bottom of an aquarium, a sand dollar is unable to right itself and will die within days.

Another Sand Dollar
Originally uploaded by

Low and behold, I can relate to the sand dollar. My day often feels like this. Little things that I used to be able to do without much thought, now take so much effort. I sometimes struggle to get anything done in my day. I think others would be surprised by this, as I have never been one that allowed myself to get too behind in my daily responsibilities. Yet, it feels as though my grieving is a very physical activity, one that takes the majority of my reserved energy.

In getting back to the sand dollar, it has become one of those things in life that knowing too much information changes how you view the world. Now that I have experienced the death of my spouse, I no longer look at the world, or my life, with naive wonder. Like finding a sand dollar on the shore, I realize that it's beauty is born out of it's death. What remains here on earth is just a shell of it's former existence. Yet it is undeniable that the shell itself maintains a sense of wonder and beauty. This is much like our memories of the one's we lost. The lives they led are now part of the past, yet what remains is an attachment to our present lives. Our memories, their stories, continue on. These stories give us comfort, and these stories keep part of them alive in their retelling. Every time someone asks me about Michael, he becomes present. Every time I am given this opportunity, it is a gift.

Oh, and by the way, the title of this post is apropos given the price of inflation.


  1. What a wonderful post, Dan. Truly. Beautiful writing.

  2. I enjoyed this post and the sand dollar info. and stories. It made me feel uplifted. Very good points about the exhaustion that goes along with grieving. And I liked that you suggested for others to lend a helping hand - people just do not comprehend how draining this new life is and even a small gesture goes a long way! I also very much connected with what you brought up about looking at the world with new eyes and being unable to view a sand dollar in the casual way you did in the past. After my husband died, I started to really look into people's eyes when they talked to me. I tried to look inside their souls suddenly realizing that so few of us really stop, listen and connect with one another other than superficially when we converse.

  3. I love this post, Dan. You are such a gifted writer and I love how you find lessons in everyday living. I am a sand dollar fan myself, and have many at home. I'll try to figure out a way to bring a Canadian sand dollar safely to you in August. Of course, with our exchange rate, it will only be a sand 93 cents :)