There’s this beach way up in Northern California, where they used to dump all the city garbage and crap right into the water. Like, they would literally back the garbage trucks up to the bluffs and launch their shit into the sea. Household trash, appliances, logging refuse, old cars, everything…. So messed up, right?! It got so polluted that they finally closed the area in the 60’s - just roped the whole place off because it was too dang gross to be out there.
The first time I hiked down to that same beach with El Chupacabra was more than 40 years after its closure, after it had been reopened as a state park. We had to pass by piles of rotting kelp, and beyond the smelly, high tide deposits of dead fish and empty beer cans and layers of mucky brown foam. Really, everything about the trip toward the water screamed, “Um. Dump! You’re visiting a dump!!” And I felt more and more skeptical about the sand filling my shoes, thinking, “Is this toxic sand?...It smells toxic….Great. Now I have Chernobyl feet. My toes are gonna fall off….Welcome to Mendocino County, everybody! Where a Great White shark will eat your head and toxic beaches will kill the rest of you!…. God, oh, God, why are we here? Why are we heeeere....Crap….” And so on, and so forth.
We finally slid down the (toxic!) sand embankment, to where the water was swishing against the shore, and the sun glistened and danced across the wet surfaces of the rocks. And that’s when I realized that the beach was covered, like covered, in glass. Green and brown and red, with flecks of blue and bits of turquoise nestled among what looked like billions of white diamonds. All of it rounded off into smooth stones from so many years of tumbling along in the surf. It was a stunning sight - One of those crazy beautiful moments in life that catches you off guard and takes your breath away, because you never ever expected it to be just…so…. perfect… Ya know?
Anyway. We stayed the day there, looking for treats in what used to be trash. Imagining if this had been the handle of a teacup, or if that was the rim of a medicine bottle. Sincerely amazed at how the sea could turn our error around on us, and delight us by taking what was a recipe for disaster and, instead, serving up a national treasure.
Since that day, I’ve kept a wooden tray full of “Glass Beach” on the dining room table. I guess it’s a centerpiece of sorts. Sometimes I scatter a couple of tea light candles in with the collection of milky colored stones, but I prefer it ‘as is’. Just a few handfuls of beach that El Chupacabra and I scooped up with our bare hands and brought home in an empty McDonald’s bag.
Our centerpiece has become a little bit of a monument to our loved ones over the years. All of our dearest friends have sat with us around the sea glass, at one time or another, sorting it, swirling it, searching through it with distracted fingertips while their souls found the right words to share their stories. That little pile of rocks has been privy to a crap-ton of secrets, as our table became a safe place for our friends to spill their guts. I recently got an email from a friend, stateside, that says with longing, “I need to talk. Can I come over and sort the rocks while I put my whole heart on the table?”
I would swear that these little glass rocks have some sort of therapeutic quality, except that I know they don’t. The truth is, it’s not the rocks that have drawn us back to the table to talk, again and again. I think it’s an altogether different centerpiece that calls us to sit and talk awhile…
That first time I stood on Glass Beach, I cried - I cried, and I thought, “This is what God does!”… God takes our crap offerings, our messed up lives and all of our garbage, and He turns it around. He makes it Beautiful, somehow. Against all odds and despite our own easy skepticism, He Redeems what seems hopelessly trashed, He Rebuilds what seems irreparably broken. Somewhere along the line, this God - the God who will make all things new - became the centerpiece of our lives.
He is the real centerpiece around which we invite our friends to sit and talk. The glass rocks only serve as a quiet reminder that we should delight in the unexpectedness of what God can do when we give Him our shit and let Him transform it. Because, seriously you guys, this is what God does….