They were my favorite pair of earrings. They were not expensive or fancy: silver balls with some artistically dangling wires. It's just that they worked well with everything. I'd bought them on a special trip to an upscale shop in a picturesque seaport town on Narragansett Bay.
I was wearing them one Saturday morning while out running errands. On the way home, I thought I'd stop by the beach my dog and I walked almost every day, My yellow Lab, Sam, insisted. The mile or two of beach is not a pure white stretch. Anything, and - unfortunately - just about everything washes up on it.
But that's what makes it so interesting. There is junk, but there's also an endless supply of material to use in collages: shells, small rocks of every color imaginable, driftwood, worn bits of pottery and glass, seaweed, wire, rusted metal. I always go home with my pockets filled, whether I intend to work on an art project or not.
Midway through my walk that morning I suddenly realized one of my earrings was missing. I had no idea where I'd lost it. I uncoiled my wool scarf, hoping it was trapped there. No. Maybe it fell off in one of the stores? With a sinking feeling, I sensed it might have fallen off in the sand. I started combing the beach, but I knew it was next to impossible to find something so tiny on a beach covered with so much flotsam. Tugging myself away from the temptation, I finished my walk.
When I got home, I cleaned out my car, looking in every possible nook and cranny. I scoured the gravel driveway. I crawled on hands and knees around my studio apartment, but came up with only a dusty penny. I decided I'd try to forget about it; I'd dismiss that nagging feeling that something was missing and move on.
Two days passed. Life had gone on, and it had been busy - too busy to get out for our walk. But on the morning of the third day, Sam pressed upon me the need for us to get out, even though it was a bitterly cold but brilliantly clear day. I agreed.
No one else was crazy enough to be on the beach, so I let Sam off his leash, and he bounded ahead. The thought came to me once or twice that I should look for the earring as I walked. But that was silly. Beaches don't stay the same; so much debris had washed in and out. Besides, what chance did a teeny piece of fancy wiring have to survive the churning tides digging into the sand and swallowing the beach these past few days?
In spite of a missing earring, life was good. I was feeling thankful for my new job at a local community college, a job that enabled me to take the art classes I enjoyed. I was also a docent at a nearby observatory. Every Friday night was spent looking through telescopes, in hushed awe of our vast and colorful universe.
As I walked briskly to keep warm, I turned toward the bright star that was doing its best to melt the frozen seashore. I thought of the zillions of stars out there, more stars than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on our planet. I knew that if I picked up just a handful of sand, I'd never be able to count all the grains. Unbelievable. I thought of the billions of galaxies that were at that moment spinning and dancing their way across the universe in perfect harmony. If all that beauty is possible, I thought, maybe anything is possible.
I looked down, and my eye caught something partially hidden, but glimmering in the sun: a round silver ball. I bent down to pick it up.
They are still my favorite pair of earrings.