This I Believe

Robin - St. Paul, Minnesota
Entered on June 24, 2007

I believe that Lake Superior is a spiritual place, as profound and enriching as any church or temple I know. It nurtures me with its beauty, sound, and constant rhythm: waves in, waves out. The comforting rhythm of a mother rocking a child, or a beating heart when you lay your head on the chest of one you love. It might be hard to imagine—an intimate connection with a body of water that seems to stretch from Minnesota to the end of the earth—but it’s there. The lake is my spiritual home and when I visit, I never leave without saying goodbye.

On a recent visit, my goodbye ritual was the same as usual. I stood on the rocky shore, taking one last look around. I struggled with the farewell, but the lake seemed indifferent to my departure. No dramatic gestures, no displays of raw power with strong winds or crashing waves. It was a clear, summer morning and Mother Nature was taking it easy. The breeze was light, and small waves came ambling in to shore. A lone seagull glided by, in no particular hurry.

I headed down the beach, unsteady as the smooth soles of my sandals slid across wet rocks. One rock, small, black, and shiny, caught my eye and I picked it up. At home, it would have been just another pebble. Here, though, in the presence of the lake, it was a piece of history, a remnant of ancient lava that once freed itself from the center of the earth. The wet rock sparkled. Then, I set it in my open hand and watched as its sheen evaporated in the morning sun. Within seconds, this black diamond was transformed to a reliable, unremarkable grey. Its cracks and flaws were more visible now. Like human life, I thought. We leave the protective waters of home and, one warm, sunny day, we’ve lost our flash and shine. Life tosses us around and we find chinks and tears in our not-so-solid shells. I looked at the rock again. Now that it was dry, I saw that it was flecked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny crystals. They glowed quietly, like a blush on young cheeks. On top, a swirly crack looped around in a perfect three-sixty, and on the side was a hole–a tiny cave where a microscopic creature once nestled, safe from a hungry predator or a biting winter storm. This rock hadn’t lost its sparkle. It simply shed the traces of its watery home so that its own weathered self, the self with stories going back to the beginning of the earth, could come to light.

I made my way to the edge of the lake. Cold June water splashed my toes. I would be back soon—there’s only so long you can stay away from home. For now, though, I threw the rock back in the water and whispered my goodbye to Superior.