Skipping rocks with my Dad.

I remember being a child, maybe 7 or 8, standing on the rocky beach on Long Island where my father grew up. His parents still lived in his childhood home, a few blocks’ walk from this beach. Set back from the beach were rows of wooden changing rooms, whose gray paint was peeling slightly. We used to run down the aisles between the changing rooms, laughing and chasing each other. My grandparents’ room (they were all assigned, and locked) had life jackets in it, and a strong and persistent smell of Shower to Shower talcum powder. To this day that smell takes me right back there. There was a long, narrow pier that protruded into the ocean, with a dock at the end of it. The dock is where Hilary and I played the popsicle game with other children.

Today, though, we’re not swimming. Dad is skipping rocks. He’s always been good at this: he picks the right kind of rock, flat and round, and is able to make it skip four, five, six times before it sinks into the ocean. I try to skip rocks like Dad, but I’m not as skillful, and manage at my best two skips before the rock stops moving and drops to the bottom of the ocean. So, mostly I watch. I’ve stood next to him while he skipped rocks into countless bodies of water: the ocean here, on Long Island, as well as that in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Ahead of me, though I don’t know it, is rock-skipping all the way across this ocean, off the coast of England and into that country’s lakes.

I sit here on an airplane, watching my children across the aisle, hearing Whit wonder whether we are “on the earth,” “in outer space,” or “somewhere in the middle.” For the record, I’m going with (c). I am as far as possible from my 9 year old self on the shore of Long Island Sound. Yet I can’t stop thinking of my brown-haired father, meditatively flinging rock after rock into the ocean, making them skim across the water before falling in, creating the illusion of a solid where there is really only liquid.

My mind is like that, skipping from one place to another before surrendering and sinking deep into the dark unknown. It tries to stay afloat, tries to believe that the surface that it is skimming over is solid enough to support it, to keep it buoyant. And yet, eventually, my thoughts always wind up being pulled underneath the surface. I am forced to admit, over and over again, that this surface is not solid enough to keep me from sinking deep into the layers. But maybe that is okay, maybe the lesson is that, as my father kept skipping new rocks, new thoughts will come and take me skimming across the surface again. And the buoyancy of that skipping, of that being aloft, means so much more for the knowledge of what lies beneath.

12 thoughts on “Skipping rocks with my Dad.”

  1. For me, it’s the mystery of what lies beneath that makes the very act of skipping so meaningful. Safe travels “somewhere in the middle.”

  2. This made me think of all the rocks skipped with my boys—into lakes, the sea, the Thames… and also of “Suzanne,” the beautiful Leonard Cohen song: “He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”

  3. There’s a scene in Ken Follet’s tome, Pillars of the Earth (or maybe the sequel) when a bridge needed to be rebuilt. The only way to do so was to create stability under the water, pouring more and more rocks into the space where the pylon would eventually lodge.

    Your post reminded me of that scene – and the disbelief of the townspeople. How could pouring more and more rocks into the water – now invisible – accomplish anything?

    The foundation of skipped stones, the layers and layers of thought, are making the pylons of your life secure. Perhaps there is still some wondering as to the point of so many once-skipped, now-sunken rocks; but eventually their volume and meaning/worth will no longer be submerged. They will hold on to you and hold you up. The rest of us will hold our breath, waiting to hear more of your beautiful, rock-solid voice.

  4. What a wonderful post. Having lost my father about year ago, your interactions with your Dad reminded me of memories of my own.

  5. Beautiful analogy. “And the buoyancy of that skipping, of that being aloft, means so much more for the knowledge of what lies beneath. – I love this line!

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