We parked her wheelchair on the boardwalk at the edge of the dunes, and I piggy-backed her down to the water’s edge. When I got to where the saltwater licked at my toes, I lowered her onto the wet sand. I brushed the hair out of my face and turned to see a look of complete contentment flash across her features. The rest of the family likes the beach, but Ella and I love it.
She sat quietly on the sand for the first day of the weekend. She built sandcastles, and dug down to the layer of glittering black sand that lies almost a foot underneath the beige surface. She used her arms to move into the water, letting the surf lap over her feet. Mostly she just sat and let the wet sand drip through her fingers, building drizzle castles and thinking. In years past, she would have spent all of her time there, dancing and jumping among the crashing waves. This year is different.
On Sunday she asked me to take her out into the water. I bent down and she wrapped her arms around my neck, and I lifted her onto my back. As I walked deeper and deeper into the breaking waves, she laid her head on the back of my neck and sighed, “I miss this.”
“What do you miss?” I asked her.
“The feeling of jumping through the waves. It feels like being free. I miss a lot of things, but jumping and running are what I miss most, and going where I want without thinking about how to get there.”
When we were back on the sand, she asked me, “Mom, will I be able to do this when I’m grown? Will I be able to come to the beach? How will I get down to the water when I’m too heavy or you’re too old for you to carry me?”
I looked in her sad brown eyes and said, “Your friends will take you. They will lift you on their backs and help you the same way I did today.”
She leaned her sun-kissed cheek against my arm and stared out at the friends we had been with all weekend. “They will? Are you sure that they will do that?”
I gestured toward my childhood friend who was frolicking with her family in the surf. “Kim would do it. She would carry me to the ocean. I wouldn’t even have to ask. I can’t imagine the day that she would leave me sitting at the edge of the sand. Can you?”
She shook her head no.
“There will be lots of people who come and go in your life, Ella, but the ones you hang onto are the one who would carry you. Those are the people who are closer than just friendship.”
She turned that over in her head.
“You can walk, so when did you need to be carried?” she finally asked.
“Lots of times, and there are times when Kim or my other friends need to be carried too. There are times when life is hard and grownups need help too. We talk to our friends and share what’s bothering us and our friends help us to carry our sadness, or our anger, or our worry. Even people who can walk need to be carried sometimes.”
She thought a little bit longer.
“Will what you just said make sense to me when I’m older?”
“Yes, my love, it will.”
“So I will have friends someday who will carry me?”
“Yes, you will. They will be God’s gift to you.”
“Because I can’t walk, so He will send me people who love me and are willing to be my legs?”
“There won’t be many of them throughout your life, but they will be there if you let them be, and they won’t just be your legs. They will be a part of your heart.”