In my hand is a pebble.
It is small, round. It takes up little space in the palm of my hand.
It is smooth from the handling of my memory.
The pebble is a moment.
It’s the time my young son pointed his finger up at the ceiling when we sang “Baby, you can be a star!”
This one is the time my new boyfriend’s daughter climbed into my lap to read my magazine with me.
And this one is the first time our oldest son referred to me as one of his parents.
There are other stones, larger. Too heavy to carry and too significant to sit in my hand.
My graduations from college – once with just a tassel, and once with a cowl.
My wedding to my first husband. And my second.
The day my son joined us on this earth.
The weight of these moments grounds me, and my memory moves among them like stepping stones. They sing my past to me and give me a foundation to walk on. Like markers on ancient highways, they measure my life’s distance. I can look back and see the impressions they make in the earth I build by living.
Yet they are dwarfed in number by the pebbles. The great stepping stones of my most significant moments swim in a sea of pebbles – the memories of the lopsided cake and the puppy with the muddy feet.
When I lived in England – a stepping stone so massive it rises from the landscape and divides my life in two – I visited the home of Winston Churchill.
The memory of World War II is a living thing in Southern England. Local residents will still show you where a church once stood, or tell you about how the road used to go over the river there, where there used to be a bridge. To step into the house of Winston Churchill is to step into a physical manifestation of the collective memory of a people who fought back against a dark threat and carry that pride with them – silent, undiscussed.
The third floor of Sir Winston’s home, Chartwell, houses a collection of artifacts collected over a lifetime. A sword gifted from a Sultan. A soup tureen carved from jade in the shape of a viking ship. A centuries-old clay native American pot. All gifts from heads of state. The lower floor holds a museum – a timeline of accomplishments from his days as a wanted man in the Boer Wars to his address to a country entering war.
A life of stepping stones. Of monuments.
When I walked from the estate house into the gardens I was exhausted. So much. So much.
Where were his pebbles?
What must it feel like to live an existence of such magnitude that all your life’s moments carry the weight of a nation and the expectation of importance?
I think these thoughts lately as my pebbles become less defined. Days rush by and become weeks and months so fast I am sure the pebbles are melting together beneath my feet, leaving me only able to appreciate the large markers that create my foundation and demarcate my accomplishments.
Breathless I think of Winston Churchill. I remember walking from his home awed by a man so pivotal to my own freedom yet sad that in a world that expected stepping stone after stepping stone that he seemed denied the time to collect something so trivial as pebbles.
I kneel and plunge my hands into the earth, feeling for the small things. I dig, blindly and urgently, for the familiar roundness of my smaller moments. I find the memory of buying the tiniest, softest kitten that would in months turn into a beautiful, sleek devil cat. Digging more I find the pebble shaped like the first cup of coffee made for me by the man who would become my husband.
Exhaling, I brush off dirt to re-acquaint myself with the colors and textures.
For though the stepping stone markers of my largest moments paint the framework of my world, it is the carpet of endlessly varied pebbles that create the richness of my life.