Rock. Paint. Gratitude.

I’m looking at a stone my daughter, Sunny, painted for me. We’ve been painting them all week together, taking walks along the shore to find just the right shapes; laying the table with tubes of paint, small brushes, make-shift cardboard mixing palettes, pictures cut out of magazines for inspiration. I don’t even remember how the project was born. It was one of those spontaneous ideas that spoke to both of us and just like that, we were deep in it. That space where creativity rushes in and pushes out plans and routines and everyone else.

This particular stone is smallish, not quite round, smooth. Painted in black, separated in half by a fine, sinewy white line that forms two commas, two chambers of the heart. It sits on my writing desk as a reminder that life is full of opposing truths.

One side is decorated beautifully with swirls and splashes, intricate dots and tear-shaped, leaf-like forms. This side is busy and joyful and evokes music and movement and seeds of growth. For me, it represents the creative, child-like side of myself that is continually striving to bloom towards the light.

The other side is still and black with a full white moon suspended in the waiting space. A cocoon. It symbolizes the sacred, clean calm where time halts and obligations, shoulds, and judgements are banned. The room where my soul can rest and reflect, where inner quiet lives, the void, the source of self. It is also, at times, the raw space where the heart is cleaved, the tears run, the body turns into and leans against the curved wall, shaping to the pain.

Together, side by side, the two halves tell a story. My story. And also the story of life, continually changing. This stone reminds me to think paradoxically: I am fragile and I am strong; life is joyful, life is harrowing; emotions wane and wax; pain and joy come and go. Nothing is permanent. I welcome both sides with an open mind and open heart. Yin and Yang existing and inseparable.

My eye is often drawn to that white dot in the black space. It tells me that joy lies just on the other side, always within reach, just as the black sphere within the bliss informs the dark. In this way, the two sides hold each other, the way we do in difficult times.

I also have to tell you about the under side of the stone, the part you can’t see. It’s smudged with paint from where it was laid down on the palette too soon, before it was dry, where it picked up traces of colors mixed and melded together. I turn the stone over from time to time and run my thumb along the ridges of accident to remind myself that life is messy and bumpy and imperfect. Its weight tells me it is just a stone picked up on the beach, one of thousands. I don’t know that my daughter intended all the meaning I have assigned to it. In fact, she simply laid it in front of me and said, “Here mom, this is for you,” and moved on to decorate another stone. How I see it, the way it makes me feel, is all mine. That’s what makes it a gift.

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