We were on our way to collect stones on the beach,
one of our oldest rituals as mother and son,
because I didn’t know what else to do
besides walk along the water’s edge
and pay our respects with sand in our shoes.
We drove past the Sikh temple
6 days after the shooting, and
I can’t swallow past the metallic lump
in my throat.
3 police cars and yellow tape:
Do not enter here.
Almost to the beach we see the sign.
We can cross over the dam, Mama.
(It doesn’t feel safe. I have to protect you.)
But you do yoga! You know how to find balance, says my son.
How do I tell him that there have been one too many
tragedies? Aurora to Milwaukee.
How can I find balance where there is no sense?
The bridge is out.
We find a way through the woods,
making our way to the sand at last.
Glad for the grit between my toes;
the sand reminds me that the ground
is near as our feet sink with each step.
The bridge is out in my heart.
My son selects 6 stones.
I find the seventh.
For the shooter.
Yes, for him too.
My son builds the cairn,
finding balance with a quick calm.
Our prayer is short.
“May there be healing.”
The words seem empty
until the stones are in place.
There is a Mexican family,
all ages, plump toddler to stooped grandfather,
playing on the jetty while we contemplate our offering.
They walk by, helping each other over the wall,
as I stand guard.
I wonder if they notice that it will
take just one breath to knock over the stones,
balanced precariously in search of grace.
A woman who seems like a mother speaks a hello
that reaches into my chest with both hands.
I want to jump over the wall and follow their laughter home.
The wall that juts out in the lake
and divides the sand reminds me
of the edges between you and me,
strangers at a table,
negotiating where you end and I begin
or where you begin and I end,
where we decide if we are far enough
in the conversation to embrace after.
Slowly, the sand erodes the concrete wall.
I look out to where the jetty disappears
into the horizon,
where the edges of you and me blur,
where love casts out fear
without having to say a word.
My son can’t stop collecting stones,
a habit from when he was small,
and the teenager reluctance to come to the lake
falls away and his pockets bulge with small stones.
He gives me a stone ringed with repeating circles,
and I tell him somberly that I have been contemplating circles
He turns back to the sand with a casual shrug and says he was thinking of the earth’s layers.
I tell him it’s time to leave.
He tells me he wants to take all the stones,
but he will leave some for the others to find.
I pray for my son,
collector of small stones,
builder of cairns,
builder of bridges.
We find a heart-shaped leaf on the way to the car.