the Sea of Miracles

for Jesse and Susannah

by Kelly Salasin

“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.” Walt Whitman

I want to write about miracles, but I don’t know how. There must be some outstanding event from my blessed life to retell, but no single moment splashes up for attention. Has my life been without the miraculous? Indeed, no. It has been so flooded with miracles that I cannot distinguish a single one… until I take what comes.

This past winter, a young friend of ours died of Leukemia. His name was Jesse and he was 19 years old. My family and I rode out the month of December with him in prayers and rituals and tears.

Tucked under our Christmas tree this year was a book entitled, The Way WE Work. Driven to comprehend blood and bone marrow as Jesse’s deteriorated, our bedtime reading ritual was heightened. We delved into a greater understanding of this amazing human body, and I was struck- STRUCK- by how absolutely miraculous our bodies are. In comparison, the miracle of Jesse’s recovery seemed a simple request.

When we got word, just after the holiday, that “Jesse wasn’t going to make it“, I wondered about prayers. So many had been sent from so far that I didn’t understand how they could be left unanswered. Were they gathered there outside the hospital doors, unable to get in? Did the Critical Care Unit refuse them? Did God or Jesse have some other unimaginable plans?

My son Aidan, age 8, couldn’t bear the news and ran up to his room sobbing. We all joined him on his bed in silence until he lifted his head from his pillow and demanded, “How can they be sure Jesse’s going to die?!”

In the face of all of our bright hopes, it was a heartbreaking thing to answer. “Death is like a birth,” I began, tentatively. “There are signs that a baby is coming and there are signs that a body is ending. No one can be certain of the exact time, but they know when it is imminent.”

Through all of our tears, I whispered again that death and birth were- both- truly miraculous; and though unfathomably painful, it was also quite beautiful that Jesse’s mother and father would be with him when he left this world as they were when they welcomed him into it.

As is the Jewish custom, friends and family sit with the body after death until the time of burial. At an hour when we would typically be heading up to bed, my family walked outside into the hushed snow and drove twenty minutes to town. We arrived at the funeral home just before 9:00 under a bright full moon and took our place beside the pine box that held Jesse’s body. We brought Rumi and lullabies and sat in sacred silence before turning over Jesse’s care to his grandmother and aunts–and finally to Lisa, his mother.

It was a magical night, holy, like Christmas Eve– perched as it was on the threshold of life and death. The next bitterly cold afternoon, we stood atop a mountain and buried the beautiful box with Jesse under the earth. Shovel upon shovel upon fistful and tears. Aidan snuck a clump of dirt from the pile and brought it home with him through the deep snow. We lit the yellow candles we had burned for Jesse each night since the New Year; and this time, we let them burn out.

Emptied in our grief, we did not find the one shining miracle we had wanted; that one defining moment that could shape a story so spectacularly such as this for you. It’s the story I had imagined retelling… the one where Jesse recovers and goes off to college like he dreamed. Because of prayers. Because of a miracle.

Who knows how miracles work… when they come and when they don’t! Isn’t it the job of a miracle to fit our expectations?! Aren’t miracles measured by specific outcomes, or is it by something else… by their effect, maybe?

If the latter is the truest account, than Jesse’s life and Jesse’s death were one and the same- miraculous.

As I type these words this morning, snow falls and falls and falls upon soft spring roads. Pondering life through my tears, I don’t know where to end this unlikely tale of miracles. Until the phone rings…

It is my sister, three thousand miles away, announcing the birth of her daughter, Susannah.

Another miracle splashes into my life

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The Little House & Me


Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. The house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized. Even so large as the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, moon, the lightning and all the stars. Whatever is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm also.
~Chandogya Upanishad


Do you know the story of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton?  It’s a book published in the forties with a sweet little house on the cover and a big contented sun on the back. It’s been a lifetime favorite of mine.  What more could a long-ago child want?

The story begins like this:  “Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country.  She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.”

Her-story continues as the Little House watches the seasons pass from her hill in the country and is soon surrounded by a village, and then a town, and finally—by a city–where she is so crowded-in by buildings that she can no longer see the sun or the moon.  The Little House becomes shabby and misses the apple trees and daisies that once grew around her.  No one wants her anymore.

I pulled this thin paperback off my child’s crowded shelves with the others that he had grown too old to enjoy.  But rather than pack The Little House with the rest, I placed her on my writing table, sensing that her story and mine were somehow aligned.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl, pretty and strong, living in the country—of childhood.  There were daisies and apple trees and plenty of spaces to grow and imagine and thrive.  But as the seasons passed, thoughts moved in and troubles and worries crowded out the moon and the sun –and soon, I grew shabby too.

So shabby perhaps that my own father decides to travel during the week that I have planned to visit my family at their seaside home.  I sit on the porch of my own Little House in the mountains and sob, wondering how I have become so unworthy.  It’s true, that at 45, I am an old daughter, with chipped paint and crooked shutters, but so is my father, older and shabbier still.

My son finds me on the porch, and sits beside me in my grief, placing his hand on my shoulder.  After I finish crying, I tell him that he might be ready to have a girlfriend after all.   Just the day before, I read from a book on teens that young men aren’t comfortable enough with the intimacy required to be in a relationship.  In less than 24 hours, he’s proven that wrong.

At 14, this same son, leans over my bent neck at the dinner table and kisses me before heading to the sink with dishes.  It’s an act of tenderness that ripples through my heart and sorrow.  He hasn’t kissed me of his own accord in years—and never on the neck like a man might do.  I am both touched and shakened by his sweet and mature response to grief.  I begin to feel less shabby.

It is the great-great-granddaugher of the man who built the pretty Little House who comes to retrieve her from the crowded city.  She puts the Little House on wheels and takes her over the big roads and the little roads until they are back in the country.

So must I find my worth–not among my father’s crowded life–but in the wide open expanse of love that surrounds me when I move away from troubled thoughts.

My story and that of The Little House share a similar path of healing and love:

As the Little House settled down on her new foundation, she smiled happily. The stars twinkled above her…A new moon was coming up… Once again she was lived in and taken care of.”

Kelly Salasin

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