Family Medical Motherhood

The Thin Place

February 1, 2018

The tide is out– leaving an open beach of wet sand and swirling, foaming, ankle high waves.

I watch my 16- month-old son run back and forth, back and forth, from puddles of water and fragmented shells to the crumbling dry sand –his one-size too big sweater catches the wind behind him like a low flying kite.

He is waiting. Waiting in his Everett way– through motion and the occasional orientation to the movement of his father who is slowly and very carefully, walking across the tiny mounds of sand, cradling 3-year old Nora, our daughter. The wind has loosened pieces of her ballerina bun, so her fine Shirley Temple curls hover around her ears, neck and face. Dancing with the wind.

I begin to make a place for her, sitting cross legged in the sand. He places Nora in my lap as Everett runs to his now open and free arms. For a moment we are huddled there together, the only people on a long stretch of beach.

I feel Nora sink into me. Most days just sitting up takes all of her strength and energy. Today was a strong day– but I know she’s tired.

I wrap Nora’s curls back into a ballerina bun as we watch Everett run through the sand, chasing his father, running with the birds, squealing with delight as the tiny waves chase him toward the dry sand.

Leaning back and into me, Nora buries just  her toes into the cool, light sand, exploring, digging into the darker wet sand. I bring my face close to hers, help her reach the sand with her hands and dig. She smiles as I kiss her cheek.

I watch Everett pick up a sea-turned piece of wood, he looks at home in the clear space of an empty beach– free to run, explore.

Nora watches birds glide over the water.

This afternoon between the land and the sea, on the cusp of the old year and the new, in a spacious stretch of sand and sky, reminds me of the days my family spent on the remote Island of Iona, Scotland, when I was in high school.   

While we were visiting the Island, a Scotsman, told my father, “Aye Iona,‘Tis a thin place”

Later, I asked my father, “what is a thin place?”

He explained that a thin place is a place where boundaries are thin between heaven and earth. A place where eternity meets the temporal. Thin places can be moments in life; when a child is born, a marriage begins, or  a person dies. Some people, like the Scottish man, believe thin places can be geographical.

I watch Tyler lift Everett on to his shoulders. I close my eyes and breathe in– a  long deep inhale, and a slow exhale.

As Nora’s mom, the mother to a medically complex little girl, the image of the thin place words find its’ way into our day to day life– pockets of thin places intertwine in Nora’s days– dancing all around her like the wind chasing her curls.

Thin places bring souls to the light of eternity. Perhaps tears in a father’s eyes as he holds his child for the first time and is filled with a love he never knew possible. The vows exchanged between two people, committing to love only one another as long as they live, a dying woman sees angels from her window, and tells her family, “they are waiting to take me home.”

As I do life with my non-verbal, non-mobile, 3 year old little girl who suffers daily seizures– I see her bring out the best and the beautiful in the souls all around her. When people are with Nora, they are compelled to sing, smile, speak kind words, read out loud, encourage, share, offer their time and talents, dance. Time slows with Nora and people are compelled to be present.

I hold my daughter tight and look across the beach, to the land and sea, my son and husband chasing waves. I look forward to the year to come, and reflect on the year that’s now gone. I want to live in the mystery of the “thin place”. The moments to come with my precious people are in the realm of a thin place. I know I’m in the trenches of motherhood and caregiving, and that these places are sacred spaces where the eternal brushes against the temporal.

This is what I crave: the clear space of open beaches, and taking pause and whispering to the here and now, “aye, ‘tis a thin place”.

Originally published in Redstone Review 1/17/2018 in Lyons, Colorado

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