Chapter 1

Sunrise on the Pier
...The sky grows
Shadows, rising
With the passing of time....
The sky sighs,
Ebbing with tides
Of predawn nothingness,
And yet,
Seas of everything created,
Tucked into waves....
The sun rises
Caressing spirits
With the passing of time
And the promise of hope
And the belief of life
That gets better with age
As we edge into
The day that once was
Our distant tomorrow.1

Nell was getting more and more soaked each time the water sprinkler circled back around. She had fallen off the boardwalk into the beach grass on her way back from the ice cream shop and was now unable to get up, afraid she might have broken her leg. She also had a painful abrasion on her forehead.

Still, she was laughing to herself. While she waited for help getting to the emergency room, the sprinkler system came on automatically, and she knew the sight of her sitting there dripping wet was ridiculous—even more so because Mema, who had gone with her for ice cream, kept running off each time the ch ch ch ch ch of the sprinkler circled around. Mema had wanted to stay right by Nell's side while others in the group went for help but had her hair done that day and didn’t want it ruined. So she would jump back with each spray, apologizing from a distance about her visit to the beauty parlor. This made Nell laugh even harder.

We were toward the end of our annual week at the beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Mattie and I had been coming every year since 1992, when he was 2, courtesy of my dear friend Sandy Newcomb and her parents, Mema and Papa (whose real names are Sue and Henry Newcomb). They always stayed in a two-story condo right by the water—a crazy flophouse with red and purple walls and more air mattresses and foldout sofas than bedrooms—and they had us down for a week or more every July.

The summer of 2000 had been better than ever in the sense that all our kin were able to make it for at least a couple of days. By "kin," Mattie and I meant the family with whom you didn't necessarily share blood but with whom you're related through life. These relationships were always wonderful to him, whereas blood relations could be sweet or sour.

1. From "Night Light" in Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs, page 29.
Excerpted from MESSENGER by JENI STEPANEK. Published by arrangement with New American Library (NAL), a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright©Jeni Stepanek, 2009.


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