There’s a pebble in my pocket.
The pebble is polished from countless times checking to see that it was still there. On a deforested hillside swinging a pick next hardworking day laborers, tearing up stumps in Ethiopia, I checked for the pebble. Spending the night on a small couch in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, I checked for the pebble before attempting to close my eyes. In Uganda while talking with a single mother with AIDS about the future of her children, I checked for the pebble. In Ireland, while sitting across from a man who lost his son and wife by suicide within three months of one another, I checked for the pebble.
The pebble was always there. I’d find it in the deep corner of my pocket and rub it a few times between my thumb and forefinger. It almost became a tick. I became self-conscious about it. There’s a name for active hands floundering around in a man’s pocket. I’m not sure if they have pool in Africa, or at least call it pool. I saw a few snooker halls.
“Honest, I’m not playing pocket snooker, I’m just touching my tiny pebble.” I had my excuse ready for any disapproving looks.
I firmly believe that you shouldn’t travel with anything you can’t afford to lose. It’s a good thing too because I lost a lot of stuff on my six-week trip, way more than normal. I lost my cell phone. I left it in a Kenyan friend’s car. It was old. I emailed him to keep it. I lost a pair of underwear. My working theory is that Justin at Rule29 stole them; he’s got underwear thief written all over him. I lost a Moleskine notebook with some contacts I would really like to have back. I left it on a bus in Dublin. For four days AirFrance lost my checked luggage. It included all of my clothes, some of my recording equipment, everything but my toothbrush, computer, Kindle, and, most importantly, the pebble.
At first glance there is nothing special about the pebble. But to my daughter Harper there was something about it that called to her. We were on a walk with my mom in the woods surrounding her home. Harper squatted down, her tiny butt a half-inch from the ground, weeds towering over her head, and she picked up the pebble. A smile crossed her face and her little legs carried her as quickly as possible to Mom. She stretched her arm out and dropped the pebble in Mom’s hand.
“Thank you, Harper,” Mom said.
Mom smiled at Harper who was toddling off to explore the woods further and then Mom looked at the pebble. She saw it too, that special something.
Soon I would be leaving on my trip to Africa and Ireland for six weeks.
“Harper gave this to me,” Mom said. “You should take it with you on your trip.”
I didn’t think much of it. I just nodded and said I would. It wasn’t until I saw the pebble lit up by the African sun that I saw the special something too.
When times are tough and when it seems the only thing in shorter supply than money is hope, the most important thing we can do is see that special something in our family and friends and value it above all else.
Some people have hearts of stone and some wear their hearts on their sleeves. For six weeks the stone was my heart and I carried it in my pocket.