A Sandpiper To Bring You Joy
By Robert Peterson
She was six years old when I first met her on the
beach near where I live. I drive to this beach, a distance of three or
four miles, whenever the world begins to close in on me. She was
building a sand castle or something and looked up, her eyes as blue as
"Hello," she said. I answered with a nod,
not really in the mood to bother with a
small child. "I'm building," she said.
"I see that. What is it?" I asked, not
"Oh, I don't know, I just like the feel of
That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes.
A sandpiper glided by.
"That's a joy," the child said.
"It's a what?"
"It's a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to
bring us joy." The bird went gliding down the beach.
"Good-bye joy," I muttered to myself,
"hello pain," and turned to walk on. I was
depressed; my life seemed completely out of balance.
"What's your name?" She wouldn't give up.
"Ruth," I answered. "I'm Ruth
"Mine's Wendy... I'm six."
She giggled. "You're funny," she said.
In spite of my gloom I laughed too and walked on. Her
musical giggle followed me.
"Come again, Mrs. P," she called.
"We'll have another happy day."
The days and weeks that followed belong to others: a
group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, and ailing mother. The sun was
shining one morning as I took my hands out of the dishwater. "I
need a sandpiper," I said to myself, gathering up my coat. The
ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was chilly,
but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed. I had
forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.
"Hello, Mrs. P," she said. "Do you want
"What did you have in mind?" I asked, with a
twinge of annoyance.
"I don't know, you say."
"How about charades?" I asked sarcastically.
The tinkling laughter burst forth again. "I don't
know what that is."
"Then let's just walk." Looking at her, I
noticed the delicate fairness of her face.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"Over there." She pointed toward a row of
Strange, I thought, in winter. "Where do you go
"I don't go to school. Mommy says we're on
vacation." She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the
beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left for home, Wendy said
it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her
Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of
near panic. I was in no mood to even greet Wendy. I thought I saw her
mother on the porch and felt like demanding she keep her child at home.
"Look, if you don't mind," I said crossly when Wendy caught up
with me, "I'd rather be alone today."
She seemed unusually pale and out of breath.
"Why?" she asked.
I turned to her and shouted, "Because my mother
died!" and thought, my God, why was I saying this to a little
"Oh," she said quietly, "then this is a
"Yes," I said, "and yesterday and the
day before and-oh, go away!"
"Did it hurt? " she inquired.
"Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her,
"When she died?"
"Of course it hurt!!!!" I snapped,
misunderstanding, wrapped up in myself. I
A month or so after that, when I next went to the
beach, she wasn't there.
Feeling guilty, ashamed and admitting to myself I missed her, I went up
cottage after my walk and knocked at the door. A drawn looking young
woman with honey-colored hair opened the door. "Hello," I
said. "I'm Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today and
wondered where she was."
"Oh yes, Mrs. Peterson, please come in. Wendy
spoke of you so much. I'm afraid I allowed her to bother you. If she was
a nuisance, please, accept my apologies."
"Not at all-she's a delightful child," I
said, suddenly realizing that I meant it. "Where is she?"
"Wendy died last week, Mrs. Peterson. She had
leukemia. Maybe she didn't tell you."
Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. My breath caught.
"She loved this beach; so when she asked to come,
we couldn't say no. She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what
she called happy days. But the last few weeks, she declined
rapidly..." her voice faltered. "She left something for you
... if only I can find it. Could you wait a moment while I look?"
I nodded stupidly, my mind racing for something,
anything, to say to this lovely
young woman. She handed me a smeared envelope, with MRS. P printed in
childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues-a yellow
beach, a blue sea, and a brown bird. Underneath was carefully printed: A
SANDPIPER TO BRING YOU JOY Tears welled up in my eyes, and a heart that
had almost forgotten to love opened wide. I took Wendy's mother in my
arms. "I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," I muttered over
and over, and we wept together.
The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in
my study. Six words - one for each year of her life - that speak to me
of harmony, courage, undemanding love. A gift from a child with sea-blue
eyes and hair the color of sand -- who taught me the gift of love.