Stuart Vail

The Point

Into everyone’s life come significant messages that mostly go unheeded. Either we are not in tune with the events or greater forces around us or we choose to dismiss such signals as unimportant: mere coincidences, flukes, accidents. Sometimes a special channel opens up that allows one to tap into a current of energy, an insight — call it what you will — which creates a new awareness never before experienced. These signals may not even be experienced on a conscious level — in fact, most often they are recorded in the subconscious. Since most of us operate unconsciously, these messages cannot be heard. Those currents are always there, all around us, accessible 24 hours a day, yet most of us are deaf and blind to them. In “discovering” electricity, Benjamin Franklin merely perceived what was there all the time. He acknowledged its existence, translated it into somewhat understandable terms, and the rest of the world took it from there.

The following is an account of a personal experience of heightened awareness. These events took place on two separate days a decade apart, but are so intrinsically intertwined that they resulted in the most profound experience of my life.

My mother has always been an avid collector of stones of all shapes, colors, and sizes. In 1988 she and my father were beachcombing at Point No Point, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington. She found an unusual broken stone about three inches long, that looked as though it had been cut off at a slight angle with a knife, exposing a dark, reddish-brown color inside. To her it looked like a piece of liverwurst, and she wittily displayed the stone at home on a cutting board with a knife. I had always admired it as a humorous objet d’art and would casually look for something similar each time I would visit rocky beaches in different parts of the world.

In August of 1998 my wife and I went to Washington State to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. This year also marked my mother’s 70th birthday, and it had been 30 years since they moved there from New Mexico. I thought that this time held great significance because of all the round numbers, each twenty years apart. With my sister and her young daughter, we planned an anniversary brunch at a delightful bed-and-breakfast called the Manor Farm Inn, located in a beautiful valley on the Kitsap peninsula. We would end the day with a visit to Point No Point.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from that beautiful setting, but we had more to do that day. Even though I had lived in the Northwest for three years and returned many times to visit since, I had never been to Point No Point, so it was significant for me to finally visit it on this day. On the way to the beach we passed a llama farm. We turned around and parked on the side of the road so my niece could admire the animals. After about twenty minutes we continued on our way north.

My father had turned on the van’s emergency flashers while parked, but now was unable to turn them off, so we stopped for about ten minutes at a gas station for help. When we finally arrived at Point No Point, we thought we were lucky to find a shady place to park; but it turned out to be for overnight campers only, and we were asked by the caretaker to move. I remember feeling a little frustrated at all the delays because I was anxious to get to the beach and didn’t want to lose any more of the afternoon. After a friendly discussion between my father and the caretaker, we found another spot and then proceeded to walk to the shore.

The sandy beach turns to stones at the point about halfway from low to high tide, and is just the kind of place for rock collectors such as us. We all began to spread out as each of us got absorbed in different aspects of the seaside. I focused on finding perfectly round white stones for my mother, of which there were many. I was walking exactly at the water’s edge, with the incoming tide slowly inching its way higher up the beach. I then spotted what looked like a similar liverwurst-style rock and thought, “Oh good, now I have one of my own.” It would be fun to display it as my mother did hers, on a cutting board with a knife. I put it in my pocket and continued on. When I caught up with my mother I showed her my stone. She was amused with my find.

On the way back home we decided to stop at a bookstore to look for a book on bird illustration that we had been trying to find for my mother. As is our style, we all went our separate ways browsing the bookshelves, and eventually I caught up with my wife in the Art section. She showed me two books by the naturalist artist Andy Goldsworthy, who uses reassembled broken stones in ingenious ways. We spent quite a long time looking through his books. My wife then went to get my mother so she could introduce her to Goldsworthy’s artwork.

After more browsing we finally got back in the van and drove to my parents’ home. I unpacked my beach treasures and showed my “liverwurst” stone again to my mother. She went to get hers from the living room so that we could compare the stones, and when we put the two side-by-side we suddenly realized that they were two halves of the same stone!

It seemed impossible, but the coloring of each was identical, all the markings around the outside matched, and the two broken sides fit together perfectly. I had found the other half of a stone my mother had picked up on a beach ten years earlier. We all screamed in disbelief. For a moment my wife thought we were fooling around by pulling an “Andy Goldsworthy” on her. We were completely stunned! We felt the hair rising on our necks as we began to realize the full impact of what had happened. I still get chills thinking about it. The chances of a friend of my mother’s finding the other half are infinitesimal, but her own son! Not a single soul I tell can believe the story.

In the ten years that separated the two finds, any number of factors could have made this reunion impossible: A storm could have rolled the stone below low tide level; someone could have picked it up and thrown it out into the water; whatever force that had originally broken the stone could have smashed the other half into tiny shards. Had we not dawdled at the Manor Farm, or stopped to see the llamas, or had the problem with the emergency flashers and parking the van, we would have arrived much earlier at the beach. The tide would have been lower and I may have walked a different path in my quest for stones. I could have missed the stone altogether.

Something had separated me from the others on the beach that day, allowing me to follow an inner focus and find the other half of a stone my mother had found years before. Subconsciously I had heeded an inner message. The stone had been there all the time, waiting for me to tune-in to it. Had I walked that same beach five years ago, treaded that same spot, perhaps I would have been blind to the stone. The time would not have been right. A friend of mine said that the gods were screaming at me that day. My wife, who has always encouraged me to “make a date” with myself, now asks me, “Do you get the Point?

For the past many years I have been working on a novel about alchemy. In the medieval quest the alchemist sought the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance which would turn lead into gold. It was believed that the Philosopher’s Stone is all around us, but invisible to the foolish, the unlearned. The alchemist also believed that the lead first must “die” before it can be reborn into a new form. It took me a decade of bitter experiences, including a terrible divorce from a previous marriage, a period of estrangement from my son, dissatisfaction with my job, and financial crises, to come to this place in my life—this new awareness. I had to suffer an “alchemical death” before experiencing the rebirth of a new life, the one I’m leading now. In the stone I have found my gold. I get the point. By implementing the gold in my life I follow my bliss and create and live a life I truly love.

After relating the event to some friends a few days later I was asked, “If you had a wish, what would you want to do with your life?” I’m sure I surprised them by not choosing something in music, which is my profession. I said that I would like to start by finishing my novel. A newer significance of my find at Point No Point suddenly hit all of us because the title of my book is “The Book of the Stone.”

© Stuart Vail