Learning from Laughter and the Trees: What do these stones mean?

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Stone tower on Block Island

By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

I’ve started an altar of stones beside my desk. With each death, birth, or marriage that passes, I write the name upon the rock and let the rock hold the memory and the prayer.

This fall, our family went to Block Island for the first time in many years. We used to stay in Dan Berrigan’s little cottage beside the ocean every summer. Stepping back on that ferry with my kids felt like introducing them to a piece of my heart- a piece nourished by beauty, where my mom’s hair blew fiercely in the wind, where my imagination learned to soar climbing on rocks and pulling clay from the cliff.

As we sat at the bottom of the cliff with my kids daring to put their toes in the ocean as the waves crashed, my dad said “Do you hear the stones?” And yes of course I did, if I stopped the listen. It was a beach made of large round stones and with each wave they were pulled in and out. “It is amazing how that sound can transform me to another place and time,” he said.

The next day, we walked down toward the light house and along the shore, people had built towers of stones. Isaac picked up on the sense of sacredness and history that such structures hold, saying “This is a way to take care of the earth. It is a way to celebrate that God is a good one for making this world for us to live on.”

As a child, I was nurtured and adored for my eye when it came to stones. I felt like I was given some amazing gift at being able to look down at the shoreline and pull out fossils and unique rocks that would then be brought home and placed around the house. As a parent now, I know that that affirmation was perhaps part gift but also encouragement to keep looking at the stones. To keep paying attention.

When Isaac was born, friends gave us a book called “Everyone Needs a Rock.” It is a book that gives ten rules for finding your perfect rock…

Not
just
any rock.
I mean
a
special
rock
that you find
yourself
and keep
as long as you can-
maybe
forever.

It is a beautiful book. So, this summer when Isaac’s friend was over, we read the book and painted wooden boxes and then went out into the yard to search for such a rock to keep in our box. We also hung a shelf in Isaac and Cedar’s room this summer where they could start collecting and paying attention to their own stones.

A while ago, I stumbled upon a poem I wrote twelve years ago. It was a hard summer. My mom had gone through another surgery and woke up unable to speak any nouns, having forgotten how to use the bathroom, or pick up silverware. She had gone into rehab and I took the summer off to care for her. I helped her get up and dressed in the morning, took slow walks around the block, she still kicked my ass at Scrabble, and at the end of the night I would tuck her into bed and ask her what she was going to dream about. She died five months later.

I remember sitting down by the water under pine trees and maples that led right up to the water where no one could see me and I sat there just staring at the small stones and wrote this raw poem.

They are fossils
Of creatures
From the past
Speaking their history
Probably only to me
Who else would notice them
Among the millions
Of others

This too shall be history
This summer
Shall be but memory

What shall it be a memory of
And how shall it be
Remembered

What will I
Remember feeling
And where will my
Peace come from

How will this summer
Change me
And who will I become

The waves gently roll in
Symbolizing each
Moment’s graceful passing
Without anyone noticing

Will anyone notice
These stones
Or are my eyes the last

I snap the picture
In fear that my own past
Might go unnoticed
By me

This past summer, we baptized Cedar and his cousin Ira in the Detroit River. We read from Joshua 4, where God instructs the Israelites to build a pile of stones beside the river. “In the future, your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’”

So following the baptism, we collected stones from the river and others brought stones from special places and we made a pile beside the river. Those stones hold memories of the places they have been and now this baptism would be one more memory they hold. We will go back to that place again and again and our children will ask, “what do these stones mean?” And we will tell them.

3 thoughts on “Learning from Laughter and the Trees: What do these stones mean?

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