By Bernadette Noll
I want to age like sea glass
I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken. I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean. I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass—made not weak but supple. I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.
When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next. Not stuck—just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause. And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.
I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along—just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.
I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina. Neither flashy nor dull, just a perfect luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to be in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time.
I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.
The Story Behind the Poem
Growing up in New Jersey, the shore was a regular part of summer for Bernadette Noll and her family. They’d often go for day trips to Island Beach State Park and then head to Seaside Heights Boardwalk in the evening. For weeklong trips with her many cousins, they’d go to Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.
“My sister, Alma, collected all kinds of nature’s treasures,” says Bernadette. Alma was the second of nine children, and Bernadette was the eighth. “Alma made little magic wands out of sticks and string and rocks, she collected little bits on every walk or hike as if each time she went outside it was a treasure hunt. And a trip to the shore always included long walks on the beach either one on one or with little kids in tow.”
Bernadette’s sister died suddenly in 2010. “Her last day of life was 10/10/10,” Bernadette recalls. She had spoken with her that night and life for Alma was good. She was happy and healthy and had a beautiful family and a satisfying job as the head of the Waldorf school in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. “That morning I got a call at 4:30 am that she was dead,” continues Bernadette. “We don’t know whether she fell down the stairs or whether she had an aneurism that burst which made her fall. At that point, it didn’t really matter which it was because she was dead.”
They gathered instantly as a family in Wisconsin and spent a full week celebrating Alma and being surrounded by love. “In life she taught me so much about everything! She was 12 years older and was my godmother,” Bernadette says. “She was a feminist and a human rights advocate and a gay woman and an adoptive mom and an all around voice for what is right. In death, there is a glory that is achieved, and she achieved that glory in her life, too. She was just a beautiful person. Since birth, because she was my godmother, she was my teacher, my friend, my other mother, and my advocate. Lucky, lucky me.”
One day in 2014, Bernadette was walking on the beach, remembering her sister. She looked down and found a piece of blue sea glass. “The glass was light blue and somewhat clear. Beautiful. Soft. Tiny. With a slight curve,” says Bernadette. “I carried it in my pocket for a long time and whenever I touched it I thought of her. She loved sea glass.”
Slowly a poem emerged as Bernadette pondered the meaning of life. “Alma died at 57, suddenly. What I learned from her death was that life is precious and meant to be joyful, full of beauty, and satisfying. Sea glass is kind of like that. Precious. Joyful. Beautiful. And satisfying.”
The poem was originally published on Bernadette’s website and then on Huffington Post in 2014. At some point, a shop owner posted an edited version inside a fitting room door in a shop on Sanibel Island.
“The photo went wildly around the internet,” laughs Bernadette. “So many people were sending it to me and asking, ‘Isn’t this your poem??’ There was no author credit. At first I was like What the heck?? Someone stole it!”
But then Bernadette started getting notes from all around the world telling her how the poem had affected them in times of grief, loss, illness, or solitude. “So many beautiful and heartfelt messages!” adds Bernadette. “And, of course, mostly from women age 50 or over since the poem speaks of aging gracefully.”
Bernadette has actually been to Sanibel quite a bit as her parents used to have a little trailer right near the entrance to the island. “So, that fact really made me kind of happy,” she says.
Bernadette keeps herself more than busy, in the meantime. “I wear so many hats!” she exclaims. “I am a mom of four first and foremost, and still have two kiddos at home. I am a writer. I have three books out: Slow Family Living: 75 ways to slow down, connect and create more joy; Make Stuff Together, and Look At Us Now: a creative family journal. Most of my work now is teaching people to consume less, share more, and create more.” Bernadette does reduce and reuse education through Austin Creative Reuse and also on her own at Reduce Reuse Remake.
“These things may seem unconnected, but really as I was writing so much about family life, I realized that kids and families were advertised to at a crazy rate and that consumerism was a big issue in family life,” she explains. “We live in such a throw-away society and I offer an antidote to this through my workshops and talks. Recently, I created Swag Lab which is a reuse, experiential swag experience for conferences and meetings.”
In her workshops and events, Bernadette tries to make sure that there are no barriers to anyone and that everyone feels welcome. “What I know now, since my sister’s death, is that we are all one,” she says. “I saw a meme recently that asked, ‘How do we treat others? Answer: There are no others.’ I love this and I try to live it every day. At many of my events, I cry tears of joy seeing the cross section of humanity represented across race, age, gender, socio-economic class, and more!”
Bernadette believes that doors should be open to all. “Y’all means all!” she affirms. “And if anything we do makes people feel victimized or unwelcome, we should take a look and see where they’re coming from and how we can ease their experience.”
Bernadette’s beautiful poem echoes these same messages of wonder, possibility, and acceptance.
Learn more on Bernadette’s website at slowfamilyliving.com.
"I want to age like sea glass" is copyrighted by Bernadette Noll. All rights reserved.
We worked with Bernadette to create a printed poster of the poem and it is available for purchase now!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2020 issue.
Love the poem