A third grader, Monica, tugged on my coat the other day because she wanted to share an assignment her teacher had given: to write messages and place them in bottles. The teacher had promised that they would have a chance to walk down the hill to the Bay and float their messages out. They would then have a chance to write what-if stories about the journeys of their little bits of paper might go on.

“Mine might make it to the other side of the planet!” She went on to share how she had crafted the message, how she planned to place the cork so that it would not leak, and how she would know for sure that her message had arrived.

“I will put a stamp in my bottle so that the person can mail me a letter!”

At lunchtime, I stood on the playground and looked at the bay. Monica’s story brought up some emotions that I hadn’t expected. I looked through the chainlink toward the bay and pictured myself as a castaway stuck on a lonely island, doing what she would do by stuffing a note into a bottle and floating it out into the waves. I pictured my message drifting, defying odds and ducking storms so that it would reach a helpful person.

Why these thoughts? Did I need some a bit of a rescue?

More, what ate at me was the circular nature of challenges I managed. I had the sense that, in spite of my efforts, nothing changed. Was I at a point where I would just have to accept things as is?

“No.” I whispered outloud. “That’s not the way I am made.”

How best to use my time on this island-of-mind? To imagine possibilities. Otherwise, my time would be nothing more than waiting for elements to take their toll.

Kids bring gifts just by being themselves. Monica gave me the start that I needed when she tugged on my coat. Anyone – a child or a bruised grown up can find a new way across the ocean. However improbable, on has to hold on. Quitting is not an option. Just as when I feel myself sinking below the surface, my soul knows to paddle upward. Upward. My body, if not my brain, reminds me what to do.

If you would have asked me at sunrise, I wouldn’t have had much to offer. Now, at mid day, I can see the pragmatic necessity of hope. It’s not an illusion. It’s linked to survival – the soul’s urge to swim breach the surface of the water and find air. That’s how we make things change and how we get around the urge to quit.

Some messages, scratched on weathered paper,  float across wild and tumbling seas. They may get slammed below by storm driven waves. They may bob in the doldrums for weeks. And, it’s also true that some find their way past all forms of weather to the right person in the right place at the right time. If it can happen in a little girl’s dreams, it can happen for real in a grown man’s life.


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