I see a rock on the nook of this tree every time I go to the park. Whenever I see it I look around, scouring the park for who might have placed it there as if there is some phantom rock leaver wandering the city streets.
It gets me thinking about rocks and stones. Cairns. They were small mounds of stones used to mark graves. A few cultures adopted the practice – from the ancient Celts to the Tibetans. I read that the stones weren’t just used to mark graves, sometimes they signified the summit of a mountain or a special event.
It’s a nice thing to contemplate – a rock or stone, smooth and sun-washed representing endurance and strength.
Rocks and stones are part of Jewish custom too. They are left on headstones or graves as a sign of respect, to mark a visit, to suggest the continuing presence of love and memory which are as strong and lasting as a rock.
I like that custom a lot. I often pick up rocks as I walk along. I have jars full of them…not all of them are perfectly formed or full of flecks of colour….but somehow the ones I rescue from the streets say something to me, something like a story or a song or the way a moment appears in a photograph.
I think rocks hold onto things like feelings and hopes. I have a few lucky rocks that I clasp in a heartfelt way when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed and they don’t necessarily change my luck but as they warm in my hand they have a calming effect and make me feel I can move forward.
The other day I discovered who was leaving the rock in the tree. A girl, pretty in an earnest, fresh-faced way, seemingly relaxed and nonchalant, but with eyes that are intense and searching.
She lost her love. It sounds melodramatic to say it, but that’s what happened. He died in a fishing accident in one of those horrible events you hear on the news where fishermen are washed off rocks by a raging sea. They never found his body. Rocks can give to us but can also take from us, joining with the elements to show us that they are the ones in charge of it all, not us.
The tree in the park was the last place the girl saw her love. They had shared lunch on the grass, leaning against the trunk. They laughed, feeding the ducks, watching babies with chubby legs chase butterflies.
She never saw her love again. I can’t imagine the gravity of that – it would be like dangling over a chasm for eternity, never able to free yourself or have the relief of falling. Without the body being found the girl has created a mythology in her mind that maybe he is not dead, maybe he will come back. She was uncomfortable saying it, but I could see she wasn’t ready to stop thinking it.
She places the rock on the tree as a touchstone, a beacon calling him out of the sea and back to land to the place of sandwiches, ducks and laughing babies; to the place where she is, waiting.
I touch the rock when she is gone. It is white with grey chips. It is rough as if it was flung up from the road by a passing car. I expect it to be warm, to fill me with a spark as if it full of magic, as if it is part of an alchemist’s arsenal….but it is cold, it’s been waiting in the tree for too long.
I feel bad. I want the rock to be hopeful, not mournful…. I want it to be more than a little conduit of sorrow.
As the sun sets, the light is cast through the trees. The grey flecks in the rock catch the light, sending out small rays like fingers. The rock comes alive seeming to say: People were happy here once, they laughed and were in love.
The light deepens. I move off, back home, looking back. The rock is nestled, coated in the falling night. It seems like something that belongs there. Maybe it is not as mournful as I originally thought. Maybe it is about endurance and being strong in spite of everything. Maybe it is about remembering.
I go home. The shadow branches from the park follow me out to the street. I find three stones, soft brown hues like baby bird feathers. They are warm in my pocket.