I woke up early and decided to go to the post office to mail a priority envelope. Since the post office is just a block from Indian Rocks Beach in Florida, I decided I would walk along the shore until the post office opened.
My approach to the beach that day was different from the one I normally take. As I entered the walkway to the beach, I noticed something that looked like a vintage wooden doll house, propped up on a wooden post. It reminded me of the 1950s. As I got closer, I saw large words painted above the house’s windows: “Indian Rocks Beach Free Library / Take a book, Leave a book.” Wow! I said to myself. How interesting to find a little library as you enter the beach. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. People usually do bring something along with them to read while sitting on the beach. So, if you forgot your book, or hadn’t thought about reading, now you have an opportunity to pick out something and enjoy it!
When I crossed the wooden bridge, I noticed a couple sitting in their beach chairs, facing the water. As I began to stroll along the shore, I saw a man way out in the distance fishing. The water was up to his waist. He must have been wearing wader pants with rubber boots, but I could not see them. Then I looked at the sand and noticed that someone had carved a big peace symbol there, with their name below it. Meandering further, I saw another peace symbol with another name. I imagined teenagers, wanting to leave their marks on the beach, announcing to the world, “We were here, and we stand for peace!”
I passed a couple jogging, some individuals walking, and some couples walking. One African American teenaged girl with long dreadlocks was picking up shells. Her hair was beautiful, nearly down to her waist. She and I were the only people of color on the beach.
Walking close to the water’s edge, I noticed thousands of tiny clam shells. As I wandered further, I could hear the snap, crackle, and pop – like Kellogg’s cereal sounds. I realized I was stepping on tiny shells that were so fine I could barely see them. For a moment, the sound took me back to my childhood, and I reminisced about being delighted by the sound of my morning breakfast cereal. I can still recollect the slogan – Snap, Crackle, Pop! Rice Krispies are crackly crisp in milk or cream! – I always had fun eating my cereal. It’s amazing how something as simple as that can bring such joy to a child. It certainly did for me.
On this occasion, I observed that people were not as friendly as the last time I walked on the beach. Maybe they were more preoccupied with their own agendas than before. However, one couple did exchange greetings with me as we continued on our way.
Later, as I was listening to the waves swell up and wash over the sand, I encountered that couple again. This time, they walked up right to me. The gentleman asked where I was from. I said Rochester. He said they were from Rome, New York. We all smiled and marveled how interesting it was that in Florida we met people from the same area of upstate New York. It’s a small world after all. . . Our friendly exchange flowed like the tides, filled with laughter and amazement at our connections.
Then the conversation took up a more serious note. The gentleman asked if I believed in God. I said yes. He told me that he and his wife were missionaries and that they were following a call they had felt to come to Largo, Florida. I asked about their church and learned that it was non-denominational.
I shared with them that I took an ecumenical theological approach, and we all seemed to be on the same page. Then the gentleman said that he had been led to approach me. He asked if he could pray with me. I said sure. He said that God had pressed upon his heart to relieve me of a burden that I was carrying. I was shocked. He could not have known anything about me just from seeing me. I was pretty sure that I did not look depressed. I looked like everyone else on the beach, watching the waves and listening to the birds singing. I even smiled. As far as I could tell, I was giving no indication that anything was bothering me. He asked if there was something that I was concerned about. I shared that I had leukemia and that it was making me tired. I also said that I had some issues with my home in Rochester. I did not go into any details about either subject.
He asked if he could hold my hand and if his wife could put her hand on my shoulder. He said, “We have been called to lay our hands upon you.” I said sure. This actually was not strange to me, as I grew up with this type of prayer in the Baptist Church. They both prayed for me and asked God to lift my burdens. They asked that I be healed of the cancer and that the situation with my home be resolved. I began to cry as they prayed because their prayer was so sincere. They really touched me, and I could feel it.
When the prayer ended, they told me that God had called them to let me know that all will be well and to stop worrying. They said things are going to change and all the losses would be restored. I was shocked at the words, “losses will be restored,” because they did not know anything about the losses with our home in Rochester. I was flabbergasted. I reached out to shake their hands to thank them, and the woman said, “I would like to give you a hug.” She embraced me, and held onto me for several minutes. It was as if she knew I needed a hug, and I really did. I cried on her shoulder. They left by giving me the sign of peace, and in return, I said, “Peace be with you, also.” We all smiled with joy in our hearts.
As I continued along the beach, I felt somewhat in shock. I could not believe what had just happened. Tears continued rolling down my cheeks. It felt like divine intervention.
Walking back toward the entrance to the beach, I wiped the tears from my face. I looked toward the ocean. Little birds were scurrying along with the waves, finding delicious morsels of food. I saw a sandcastle that was slowly falling apart and thought of the child who had spent a great deal of time making it. At least I got a glimpse of its beauty before the walls came tumbling down like at the battle of Jericho.
Soon I arrived at the wooden bridge that would take me away from the beach. This bridge is like one you would see in Japanese garden, with a slight arch. As I looked back at the waves of the ocean rushing in and out, I felt relieved. I felt the waves were carrying my burdens out to sea. I could hear Mahalia Jackson singing in my head, “I’m gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside.” And that’s exactly what I had done. Little did I realize the snap, crackle, and pop on the beach could bring such a blessing. ~~~
Chester Freeman is a traveling Quaker who enjoys visiting Quaker meetings. He spent several months visiting Friends along the West Coast, being hosted by them, while he was exchanging homes with an artist/writer in The Sea Ranch, California. Currently, you will find him six months in Rochester, New York, then six months traveling.
Try this for fun: https://tinyurl.com/snap-crackle-pop
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