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 as blue as the sea.
'Hello,' she said.
I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child.
'I am building,' she said.
'I see that. What is it?' I asked, not really caring. 'Oh, I don’t know, I just like the feel of sand.' That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided by.
'That’s a joy,' the child said.
'It’s a what?'
"It’s a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy.'
The bird went gliding 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.
'Robert,' I answered. 'I’m Robert Peterson.'
'Mine’s Wendy... I’m six.'
'Hi, Wendy.' 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, Mr. P,' she called. 'We’ll have another happy day.'
After a few days of a group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, and an ailing mother. The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands out of the sink. I need a sandpiper, I said to myself, gathering up my coat.
The ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was chilly but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed.
'Hello, Mr. 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 to even greet 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 to 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’, I said, 'and yesterday and the day before and - oh, go away!'
'Did it hurt?' she inquired.
'Did what hurt?' I was exasperated with her and with myself.
"When she died?' she asked.
'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 there.
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. 'HelIo,' I said, 'I’m Robert Peterson. I missed your little girl today and wondered where she was.'
'Oh yes, Mr. Peterson, please come in. Wendy spoke 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 what I had just said.
'Wendy died last week, Mr. Peterson. She had leukemia. Maybe she didn’t tell you.'
Struck dumb, I groped for a chair. I had to catch my breath.
'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 to say to this lovely young woman. She handed me a smeared envelope with 'MR. P' printed in bold childish letters. Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues - a yellow beach, a blue sea, and a brown bird.
Underneath was carefully printed: A SANDPIPER TO BRING YOU JOY.
Tears welled up in my eyes and a heart that had almost forgotten to love opened wide.
I took Wendy’s mother in my arms. 'I’m so sorry, I’m so 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 harmony, courage, and understanding 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 Robert Peterson
“Sometimes you put up walls not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.” - Socrates
Why do your walls exist?
“Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech.” - Plutarch
How do you use silence for your benefit?
“You can focus on your purpose, or you can focus on your problems.” - Jerry Wainwright
Where do you put the bulk of your focus?
“To hear you have to listen. To listen you have to respect. To respect you have to care.” - Benjamin Zucker
How does your caring enable you to hear what others are saying?
“Life is black and white, it’s up to you to paint the colors.” - LaFleur
What are the colors of your life?
I believe everyone is born to live an uncommon and extraordinary life. But how do you achieve this remarkable life in an age where everyone seems to just get by?
Find out in my new book, Sustainable Excellence, out October 20!
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“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” - Joseph Joubert
How do you ensure your arguments and discussions yield progress?
"What this country needs is more people to inspire others with confidence, and fewer people to discourage any initiative in the right direction; more to get into the thick of things, fewer to sit on the sidelines merely finding fault; more to point out what's right with the world, and fewer to keep harping on what's wrong with it; and more who are interested in lighting candles, and fewer who blow them out." - Father James Keller (1900-1977), Founder, The Christophers
From: Leadership...with a human touch, October 31, 2000, Page 2
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” - William Butler Yeats
How does your talent promote unity?
Gone but Not Forgotten
When you lose a loved one, it can seem like everything about that person is gone from your world. One woman realized how far from the truth that is after she lost her husband to cancer. Debora Taylor had started her own battle with cancer four years prior to her husband Hank’s diagnosis, but she fought against it, feeling as though there was some reason God wanted her to stick around. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Debra knew her purpose was to help him through his own battle. Sadly, Hank lost his battle only a month later. Debora was still recovering from her own treatments and was now emotionally scarred after her husband’s sudden death. But one day, Debora found a voicemail from her husband that she had never deleted. The voicemail was of Hank, somewhat agitated on his way home from work but showing his silly side that Debora loved. She treasured the voicemail until the day she had to switch phone carriers and lost her husband’s message. Through a rant on Facebook, her previous phone carrier found out her story and was able to walk Debora through the process of retrieving the voicemail so she could once again have a piece of her husband back in her life.
“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundation of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” - Saint Augustine
How are you planting the deep foundation of humility?
“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Are your dreams high enough for you to hit your mark?
“Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts.” - LaFleur
What is taking up the most room in your heart?
“Don’t ever mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance or my kindness for weakness.” - Carson Kolhoff
What mistakes are people assuming about you?
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Author & Motivational Speaker
Terry is a sought after speaker who believes in the power of a story to motivate, inspire, and help others lead their uncommon and extraordinary lives. By combining his eleven-year cancer journey with his diverse business, athletic coaching, and hostage negotiating expertise, he delivers compelling yet relatable presentations for conferences, on-line events, panels, meetings, and seminars.