‘This man, alone and smiling, set up a home office with the tide coming in. ‘Why would he do that? He can’t stay there indefinitely.’: Divorcee thanks ‘mystery man’ for teaching life lesson, ‘It all matters’

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“Early one recent morning, I was hanging photographs in my new little place, the first home I’ve ever had that has truly been just mine. No roommate, no spouse, just me, recently divorced, recently relocated, building a new life.

I came upon a silver-framed photo of my father and myself dancing at my wedding. It’s my favorite photo of the two of us together ever taken. But because it was from my wedding, I momentarily wondered whether it was alright to hang it or whether that was strange considering the marriage has ended.

Would I be carrying the old into space I’m making for the new? Would it look or feel as if I were hanging a reminder of what many might consider a failure? I decided to take a break and walk the beach I’d fallen in love with, the one that brought me to this new town.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mitchell

As I strolled the wide, empty beach sifting through my thoughts, I found myself anxious, wondering what steps I might have taken differently, decisions I could have unmade, to be in a different place and situation than the one in which I found myself. I wondered whether, in the state of the world, anything I was doing mattered, whether any of it was enough. I found myself mourning the ending of so many things this year, and suddenly those thoughts expanded to the state of our whole country and every person in it — how uncertain and unstable so many normally ‘permanent’ or reliable things had become for so many.

What I absolutely was not thinking about or considering was the softness of the sand beneath my feet, the sound of the seagulls as they called to each other, the salty, warm breeze on my face, or the beauty and peace available to me in that moment. Suddenly, my attention was pulled from my internal monologue by the presence of another person entering my solitary seaside reverie.

This man, alone and smiling, had set up a home office on a sand bar with the tide coming in. I momentarily considered him foolish and thought to myself, ‘Now, why would he do that? The tide will eventually come in, and he will have to move. He can’t stay there indefinitely.’ And then I checked myself.

It reminded me of a conversation I had just the previous night with my neighbor, who said to me of his former marriage, ‘We had 22 happy years. It’s unfathomable to me that my marriage failed.’ And I had said, simply, ‘It didn’t fail. It gave you both 22 happy years. That’s beautiful. Just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it doesn’t count or doesn’t matter. We ourselves do not last forever, and I refuse to believe we don’t count, or we don’t matter.’

I smiled at how readily I had given that answer to someone else, yet had not considered granting myself the same permission to view the impermanence in my own life as beautiful, as natural, as acceptable.

I decided to take my own advice.

I went home and stood in my sunny little living room, sand still on my feet, and picked up the photograph. My wedding day was spectacularly beautiful and filled with so much love and joy, and it happened. It mattered. It counted. And this pictured moment? This moment was about me and my dad, dancing to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ as my best friend sang it for us. And this moment had not been undone or made unreal by the ending of the marriage. No moment from that day or even from the marriage itself had been erased or discounted. There I stood in my life, in my little place, looking at this photo taken by a talented friend and photographer, feeling nothing but gratitude. I hung the photo.

So, thanks to this mystery man on the beach and his impermanent but absolutely perfect setup for reminding me it all counts, it all matters, and to soak up the beauty in every moment.”

Courtesy of Elizabeth Mitchell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Mitchell. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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