I headed toward Cape Cod under spotted and dreary gray skies, listening to news reporters detail the George Floyd tragedy and its aftermath, only pausing on occasion to offer updates about the worldwide pandemic. My instinct was to return back to the Tears for Fears or Bruce Hornsby playlists I had been enjoying, but current events feel too pressing, too weighty, to turn from. These are historic times and it seems that we are paying the price for the exploitation of outrage and the skilled deployment of hatred as a means to concoct subtle, sometimes hidden, wedges. We are getting what we paid for. And we are broken.
Looking down at my watch, I realized I had maybe an hour to kill, so I wondered whether the Brewster Flats might be to my soothing. Without a wide lens for expansive landscapes or a long one for feeding osprey, this wasn’t exactly going to be photo trek. Peace of mind, I thought; that is what this will be about.
If the tide’s low, I mused, I’ll just walk out the mile or so to the sea amidst soft tidal pools and diving gulls. It will be a diversion, a momentary pause, a needed one. I called up my mobile app tidal chart and… wouldn’t you know: I would be at the Flats right at the peak of low tide.
Minutes after arriving, I met Jonathan. Originally from Connecticut and vacationing in Eastham in his youth, Jonathan lives by the Flats. We walked single file and appropriately distanced along a narrow sandy path by marshes and dunes.
Jonathan told me about his celebrity encounters – I have no idea how we got onto that subject – which included Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia, and which together make for an odd brushes-with-greatness pairing. But the stories were compelling nonetheless.
Jonathan suggested nearby places I could walk to and photograph. He told me about the osprey in the area and the return of bald eagles, which attack osprey eggs to claim their nests.
Single file and appropriately distanced along a narrow sandy path, I found myself enjoying this brief encounter with a stranger.
As we diverged – him continuing along the path and me advancing toward the Flats – Jonathan revealed the rock he had painted and which he had been carrying all along. He showed me where he places them, these colorful works of art, onto a hill of dark and dirty stones. Someone always takes them away, he noted. Every time.
I have been thinking about those colorful rocks. About that encounter. And about all that contrasts with the outrage and anger and brokenness which surrounds us. A splash of color amidst the dark. The gesture of humanity, the placement of a painted rock upon a pile for someone… someone utterly unknown… to gather in and to keep. I imagine Jonathan’s painted rocks set upon various bookshelves, office desktops, kitchen counters, sidewalk flower beds… intentionally placed by those strangers into their own lives… as reminders of vacations, respites, moments of solace and maybe even chance encounters.
Like painted rocks, we can be small points of contrast, reminders of what unites us, not what frays and fractures us.
Like painted rocks upon a dusty rubble, we can bring love into the splintered world… whether directed to those in our lives who have come to expect it… or to strangers who will never know us really and perhaps who won’t even remember our encounter. But that love can spread and unite and remain and eventually save all of us.
Just like painted rocks…