Life is a balance of Holding on and Letting go – Rumi
By Sheila Wright
A long time ago Napatree Point in Rhode Island was filled with elaborate homes of the very wealthy who were privileged enough to look out on the vast sea, churning and changing by the hour. In 1938 a hurricane of profound proportions smashed in and swept away every house on the Point. The local ice cream store on the main street in Watch Hill has photos of Napatree before and after of the great hurricane of ’38. Now there are no homes, no people living on the Point. It’s a walking space, a place with rare birds and osprey nesting grounds.
For more than a decade, my family and I have walked through the lapping waves and smooth sand to Napatree Point. My husband, sons, brothers, sisters-in-law, daughter-in-law, niece, a couple of friends who count as family, beautiful grandchildren and I are on the annual trek. A few run, some walk quickly, others take a few minutes for yoga, and others stroll, eyes down searching for shells. We start at the Watch Hill beach and walk the two miles to the Point. When we have all straggled in, my brother Garrett begins the ritual of building the cairn. He is a practicing Buddhist, and, to him, this is a very sacred ritual we perform every year. It’s fair to say that it has become a sacred ritual for all of us, ages 10 through 78.
We begin by looking for promising stones and carefully stack one on top of the other. Over and over, we pile various stones. This is not your typical “pile of rocks” on the beach; it is a work of art. Many hands contribute to the work. Failure is part of the process. Things fall apart, new pieces fill in spaces. Sometimes a beautiful stone will have to be put aside because it just doesn’t fit in the structure. The artwork reflects the need for thought and thoughtfulness, fragility and framework.
We want the cairn to be a small, delicate homage to art, nature and balance. We find promising stones, and carefully stack one on top of another, over and over. We hold our collective breath, step back, and admire. I love the details and delicacy of the human-made cairn, the carefully crafted balance of large and small, rounded and angular rocks and stones.
As if by magic, we all know when we have it. Most often it is Garrett and the young ones, Emma and Colin, who make the final touches. And in this moment, Nature is now different. Beauty has
been created from simple materials. We are different now. We realize there are countless choices; if this way doesn’t work, another way will. The possibilities abound – in other stones, in nature, in ourselves and as a family.
We always build close to the ocean, knowing that its natural force will one day wash away our family artwork and we’ll have to begin anew the following year. We can hold on to the memory of what we built, but let go of the hope that it will be permanent. The push and pull of the moon, the ever changing tides require that we let go of the idea of permanence.
The ritual ends when we are back in the ice cream store. Looking at the photos on the wall, we feel part of the history on Napatree Point. And we feel our family history, the call of ancestors and the call of those to come. We are connected to the eternal balance of holding on and letting go.