She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near where I
 live. I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the
 world begins to close in on me.

 She was building a sand castle or something and looked up, her eyes blue
 as the sea.

 "Hello," she said.

 I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small

 "I'm building," she said.

 "I see that. What is it?" I asked, not caring.

 "Oh I don't know, I just like the feel of the sand."

 That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided

 "That's a joy," the child said.

 "It's what?" I asked, uncaring.

 "It's a joy! My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy."

 The bird went glissading down the beach. "Good-bye joy," I muttered to
 myself, "Hello, pain..." and turned to walk on.  I was depressed; my life seemed
 completely out of balance.

 "What's your name?" She wouldn't give up.

 "Ruth," I answered. "I'm Ruth Peterson."

 "Mine's Wendy,... and I'm six."

 "Hi, Wendy." I offered.

 She giggled. "You're funny," she said.  In spite of my gloom I laughed
 too and walked on.  Her musical giggle followed me. "Come again, Mrs. P," she
 called. "We'll have another happy day."

 The days and weeks that followed belonged to others: a group of unruly
 Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, an ailing mother.  The sun was shining one morning
 as I took my hands out of the dishwater.

 "I need a sandpiper," I said to myself, gathering up my coat.

 The never-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was
 chilly, but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed.  I had
 forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.

 "Hello, Mrs. P," she said. "Do you want to play?"

 "What did you have in mind?" I asked, with a twinge of annoyance.

 "I don't know. You say."

 "How about charades?" I asked sarcastically.

 The tinkling laughter burst forth again. "I don't know what that is."

 "Then let's just walk." Looking at her, I noticed the delicate fairness
 of her face.  "Where do you live?" I asked.

 "Over there." She pointed toward a row of summer cottages. Strange, I
 thought, in winter.

 "Where do you go to school?"

 "I don't go to school. Mommy says we're on vacation."

 She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind
 was on other things.

 "When I left for home," Wendy said, "it had been a happy day."

 Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.

 Three weeks later, I rushed to my beach in a state of near panic.  I was
 in no mood greet even Wendy.  I thought I saw her mother on the porch and felt
 like demanding she keep her child at home.

 "Look, if you don't mind," I said crossly when Wendy caught up with me,
 "I'd rather be alone today." She seemed unusually pale and out of breath.

 "Why?" she asked.

 I turned on her and shouted, "Because my mother died!"-and thought, my
 God, why was I saying this to a little child?

 "Oh," she said quietly, "then this is a bad day."

 "Yes, and yesterday and the day before that and-oh, go away!"

 "Did it hurt?"

 "Did what hurt?" I was exasperated with her, with myself.

 "When she died?"

 "Of course it hurt!" I snapped, misunderstanding, wrapped up in myself.
 I strode off.

 A month or so after that, when I next went to the beach, she wasn't

 Feeling guilty, ashamed and admitting to myself I missed her, I went up
 to the cottage after my walk and knocked at the door.  A drawn-looking young
 woman with honey-colored hair opened the door.

 "Hello," I said. "I'm Ruth Peterson. I missed your little girl today and
 wondered where she was."

 "Oh yes, Mrs. Peterson, please come in."

 "Wendy talked of you so much. I'm afraid I allowed her to bother you. If
 she was a nuisance, please accept my apologies."

 "Not at all-she's a delightful child," I said, suddenly realizing that I
 meant it. "Where is she?"

 "Wendy died last week, Mrs. Peterson. She had leukemia. Maybe she didn't
 tell you."

 Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. My breath caught.

 "She loved this beach; so when she asked to come, we couldn't say no."

 She seemed so much better here and had a lot of what she called happy
 days. But the last few weeks, she declined rapidly...." Her voice faltered.

 "She left something for you...if only I can find it. Could you wait a
 moment while I look?"

 I nodded stupidly, my mind racing for something, anything, to say to this
 lovely young woman.

 She handed me a smeared envelope, with MRS. P printed in bold, childish
 letters.  Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues-a yellow beach, a
 blue sea, a brown bird. Underneath was carefully printed: A SANDPIPER TO BRING

 Tears welled up in my eyes, and a heart that had almost forgotten how to
 love opened wide.  I took Wendy's mother in my arms.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry,
 I'm so sorry," I muttered over and over, and we wept together.

 The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in my study. Six
 words-one for each year of her life-that speak to me of inner harmony, courage,
 undemanding love. A gift from a child with sea-blue eyes and hair the
 color of sand-who taught me the gift of love.

 Written by:  Ruth Peterson

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