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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Leon

A Letter to Bald Head Island

Updated: Apr 16, 2018

I realized as we bumped along in the tram from the ferry that the island didn't know what had happened, didn't know all about John Paul Raphael and why I was here.

Dear Bald Head Island,

I love you and I am so happy to be back here. I loved seeing the long stretch of beach road that meant we were almost here and opening the windows to smell fresh air. I love seeing the ferry and thinking of the times I have been here before -- the first with my new love and an unknown future and the delight of discovery. I fell in love with you that weekend too. Then last summer, bringing our family to share with you... the 8 of us plus my mom and the little 10 week kumquat. I was so full of joy, Bald Head Island, although the wear and tear and exhaustion of my daughter's mental health was a constant source of anxiety and strain; but my body was just starting to blossom and my heart was so full with the knowledge of the great blessing I carried in my womb, a little niblet we had seen growing twice already -- beating heart bringing hope and healing with every pulse. BHI, I didn't know yet that the kumquat was a boy. That I would be shocked and have to release Grace Maria and pick up John Paul Raphael. And that in finding out he was a boy, we would also begin 21 weeks of trying to beat the odds with uncertainties and doubts and anxiety and hope and fear and oceans of tears for our little one. That our sweet baby, so tiny and yet already so loved, was maybe very sick. Not for sure. Only 87.7%.

Could you tell? In the stored wisdom of weathered old wood, could you see the wise soul of my child and feel a kindred spirit? One not destined for this world but already in a way so pure and beautiful that this valley of tears couldn't hold him? Did you care for me in an extra gentle way with the breath of your wind and the scratch of your surf, knowing this life within me would be warrior enough to break into our world alive, but sacred enough to let us carry the weight of his body for only a short time--but the weight of his soul forever? Or did you simply trust and rejoice at another gift of life from our Creator and give no thought to the numbering of his days -- full of wisdom as you live at the mercy of wind and tide and moon and surf?

Teach me your surrender -- where your ancient oak felled by lightening lies still on the earth of your maritime forest but rises strong to provide a canopy of protection for the life around her while still prostrate on the ground. Teach me to release my will and become so pliant and full of trust that the shifting shapes of my own dunes and shorelines no longer cause me fear or panic.

My kumquat died, sweet island. He grew and thrived in my belly, topping the scales at only 4 pounds and 1 ounce before some silent hourglass dropped its last grains of sand and his time had come. He arrived at 35 weeks and 6 days and only stayed 28 hours and 10 minutes more, just a bit longer than one high tide and one low tide before he slipped away. It is hard to come back empty after coming so full last summer, both in my womb and in my hope. Last summer I was still full of promise and dreams and more than a little excited nervousness about how different our lives would be! I was so right and so wrong.

Can you see the scars, little island? Can you tell that even though I might smile and look brave that my body is bigger and battered and sliced through? That my peace or joy or laughter is fragile and always layered with the deepest of sorrows, a heaviness that most people can't see? Maybe they just see that I still have branches and my leaves still reach the sky, but they can't tell that my trunk is lying on the ground now.

Thank you for helping the Lord, lovely land and sea and sand, to soothe me and carry me and let me rest and breathe and remember. To bring my baby alive in my memory in a way I will never again be able to do in my body. To write the words of his life and to try and capture the impact of carrying him then, now, and forever. I trust the weathered wisdom of your tides and the gentle song of your surf, the caress of your breeze to show me the way. The cries of your birds encourage me to begin.

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