On a rocky beach somewhere in Scandinavia I walked along the curvy length of the shore, pausing every so often to pick up a stone or a shell which caught my eye. I thought they’d make beautiful gifts for you, a small consolation for the feel of your absence. In total I collected two shells and two stones: one with broad, rounded edges, another whittled like a gem, each of them shiny from being enmeshed in water and small enough to nestle into the question mark-shaped curve of my breast pocket.
I arrived back at our campsite and laid the rocks out on paper towels to dry. When you arrived at the camper later that evening, your dark brown hair matted and wet, I rushed towards the paper towels and cupped the stones and shells into my hands. At the same moment you reached into your bag and withdrew a tight fist, your fingers wrapped around your own secret: you had collected shells for me too.
We sat eagerly by the campfire and took turns revealing our gifts to each other. But as you twirled the mini-conch between your index finger and thumb, I watched its chocolate lines melt into a hypnotic spiral and thought I caught a glimpse of disappointment in your eyes – or was that boredom? Perhaps longing? When you then handed me the first of the shells you had collected for me – a perfectly symmetric, undisturbed scallop – I held it to my nose, hoping to catch a whiff of the Baltic Sea. But I detected nothing.
We sat there for a little while longer by the campfire, the ocean’s breeze pushing rivulets of damp hair against your cheeks. And eventually, as if on cue, we both came to the same realization: that the stones and shells we’d each collected could only belong to ourselves, because they had called out to us precisely in those moments when we’d encountered them – alone. Smiling sheepishly we each extended our closed fists towards each other, returning each treasure to the palm of its rightful owner.
And as you leaned your head against my shoulder, I thought: what a blessing it is, to have the permission to receive a gift from yourself.