When my children were small, a trip to the beach always meant coming home with heavy coat pockets: pebbles and shells scraping and clacking in a low blunt percussion, knocking together as we walked.
Some beaches look like lightly fruited sponge cakes, expanses of vanilla sand dotted with pebble ‘raisins’ but, at high tide, our favourite walking beach in Ferring is packed with shingle like my mother’s dense rich fruit cake was packed with currants and peel - there is barely room for anything else.
My children are older now, but occasionally a pebble will jump out at me for its shape or colour and I still find myself stopping to pick it up. It’s like thoughts. If an interesting one strikes you, it’s best to grab it while you can, because, like a pebble on a densely shingled beach, if you don’t grasp it firmly when you find it, it’s unlikely you’ll stumble upon the exact same one again.
What do I do with those pebbles? Most of them are lost, serve no purpose, but my favourite few make it onto our bedroom mantelpiece which fittingly is made from a disused West Sussex
beach groyne, steeped in decades of salty tides.
There’s a roughly heart shaped one and one which is sandy gold, fading first to white then blueish grey, like a microcosm of the beach it was found on.
At some point last autumn however, just as I was bending down to pick one up, there was a dull thud inside me. Suddenly it all seemed a little pointless: the pebbles, the thoughts. Who cares anyway? Is it really worth the effort?
From then on, when a pebble caught my eye, I gazed at it for a moment but refrained from picking it up. I began to walk past, saving myself the trouble. I did the same with the thoughts, letting them fly away free rather than frantically catching them in scribbled notes for future display.
At first it felt like wisdom, a kind of decluttering. It felt like I was clearing space in my life and mind, saving wasted effort by letting those thoughts fly.
Those ‘What’s the point?’ moments can hit us all. Whether trying to pursue creative work
or working towards a positive difference in the world. Does anyone care? Probably
someone else has found a similar pebble and probably someone else has had a similar thought.
Yes...but actually... never the exact one.
What we see in the world, whether it’s a pebble on the beach or a perspective on life, is never caught in quite the same way by someone else. Our viewpoint changes it. Sometimes our tiny pebble of an idea just seems meaningless.
But that one pebble, that one thought... it’s unique. That one thing - the crazy idea, the work of beauty, the word of hope - is irreplaceable and could be exactly what someone needs.
In a speckled beach full of pebbles one suddenly stands out. In the multitude of mundane thoughts, the same can happen. But if you don’t grasp it when you find it, the tides of life and all those bitty things that clutter your mind, will wash over it. It will still be there... somewhere, but it will take forever to retrieve it, to find what was intended as a gift of discovery, given in a flash.
So when I walked on the beach again later in the year and stopped in the shallows to admire a pebble, it only took me a moment to decide.
Bending down, I scooped it up and put it into my pocket.