And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Last Saturday, I taught for the first time since the pandemic at a “live” event. I actually traveled to Winona, Minnesota, checked into a hotel, then drove across the Mississippi river to teach in Fountain City, Wisconsin, a place that wasn’t on Zoom. I didn’t even bring my computer. I interacted with real people, walked among them, listened to them as they spoke with undistorted voices, but with their real voices, and watched as they worked. In the hotel, I had a lovely room that wasn’t in my house, I had meals in the pub, I swam in the pool and soaked in the hot tub.

It was amazing!

But what was even more amazing is how a sand dollar found its way into my life again, for the fourth time, and 2177 miles away from the Oregon coast, the setting for my three other sand dollar stories.

For those who don’t know the original, here it is:

In 2015, my novel Rise From The River was published. This was the book that forced the blood, sweat and tears out of me. It took me 20 years to be brave enough to say the things I said in that book, which is about a young single parent mother who becomes pregnant after a rape. The whole book takes place during her first trimester. At the time of publication, the world was in an uproar over 50 Shades. And I was horrified, at the state of literature, at the state of the publishing industry, and at my own gender. By the time I got to Oregon that year, I was pretty much a car wreck, ready to give up on writing altogether.  The day I arrived, I stood in the Pacific and I yelled, at God, at the Universe, at the ocean, to show me if I was on the right path. To show me there was a reason for my life. When I wasn’t surprised by a bolt of lightning or the sudden ability to walk on water, I went specific. “If I am on the right path, let me find a whole sand dollar while I’m here. A WHOLE sand dollar.”

And a week went by.

One night, it was foggy, and the fog on the Pacific is like nowhere else. It sparkles. My daughter and I walked in stars and stardust and glitter. In the distance, an older man came toward us, and no matter where I stepped, he moved himself so he was directly in my path. We stopped when we were practically nose to nose. I noticed I wasn’t afraid.

He looked right at me. He didn’t say hello or how are you. He said, “Have you found a whole sand dollar?”

I could have dissolved right there. “No,” I said. “I’ve been looking, but –“

“Choose one,” he said, and he pulled three out of his pocket.

I did. Then he told Olivia to choose one too. And he walked on his way.

You don’t have to hit me upside the head. I went home, painted a small canvas and glued the sand dollar on it to remind me every day to stay on the path. I would be all right.

That was story one. Then came story two. Right after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend went to the Oregon coast, near where I stay. He said he was thinking about me as he walked by the ocean. And then he looked down. There was a whole sand dollar. He picked it up and brought it home to me.

“You’re going to be all right,” he said as he handed it over.

And then story three. A year after breast cancer, I returned to the Oregon coast. I ran out to the ocean and had another shouting moment. “You didn’t tell me my path was going to include breast cancer!” I said. “If I’m going to be all right, let me find a whole sand dollar. Let ME find it this time.”

On the last day of my stay, I walked out to say goodbye to the ocean. As I stood there, I felt something bump into my big toe. I looked down and found a whole sand dollar. It’s on a canvas now too, hanging on the wall behind my desk.

And now, this past weekend, story number four. 2177 miles away from the Oregon coast. While teaching at my first live class since the pandemic, I saw one of the women pick up Rise From The River. “That is the book that broke my heart,” I said. “That is the book that nearly made me quit writing.”

And I told the class the original sand dollar story. I read it to them from This Week’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News. May 18, 2017, if you happen to have the book. That’s not when I found the sand dollar, but when I told the sand dollar story to women in jail. The woman who picked up the book, by the way, bought it.

Soon after, the class fell into quiet as they worked on the ideas they’d had while walking the labyrinth. I was teaching a workshop called The Labyrinth & The Creative Spirit, a course which defines the creative process and shows how walking a labyrinth can release your mind and produce wonderful ideas. As they wrote, I wrote too.

One woman had to leave early, and she quietly packed up her things. Then she came over to sit by me to say goodbye. She laid her hand on top of mine.

“Thank you,” she said. “I think you’re my sand dollar.”

And she became mine. Story number 4. I’m on the right path. I’m going to be all right.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Sand dollar #1.
Sand dollar #2.
Sand dollar #3.
All together.

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