A Leaky Bucket Tells His Story

Here is a story (and my first guest post) by my friend, Tim Fretheim. The idea for this story originally came from an illustration he heard at a retreat given by Rob Des Cotes. My post about the leaky bucket is here.

A Tin Pail

By Tim Fretheim

red and white bucketMy official birth certificate was a yellow placard in the Army and Navy store that read: Beach Shovel and Pail. I was proud of that name, but following the events that I’m going to relate to you, I have changed my name to a tin pail. It’s simpler, more basic. It’s what I am now. But back to those days…

Those days were wondrous! A young family, consisting of a husband and wife and their young boy, took me along on their camp-outs at the ocean. Living out of a tent, I carried both the ocean and the beach, helping to build sand castles and then filling the moats with water. The young boy was proud of his red and white pail and carried it with him most of the day. At night I would sit outside the tent, listening to the family’s conversations around the campfire.

One night, the boy asked, “Dad, how much water can I carry in my pail?”

“Not very much, son. In fact, what you can carry is a drop in the bucket compared to the whole ocean!”

That was a bit of shock. A drop in the bucket?  I thought I was capable of much more than that.

The third summer at the beach disaster struck. Midway through the week, we were surprised when the park ranger’s truck came bouncing down the beach.

“You folks need to get out of here. There’s a tsunami coming. You’ll only have a few minutes before this whole beach will be covered in water. Don’t wait; get what you can and get to higher ground.” With that, he gunned his engine and roared down the road to the next beach.

The young dad quickly began picking up their gear. His wife yelled, “Leave it! Grab Jonathan and get into the truck.” In a few minutes, they were gone. We were left, the shovel and I, sitting in the sandcastle’s moat.

The first waves came swiftly and swept by alongside me. Then the full brunt of the power struck, and the waves seemed like giants over me. I was a toy in the hands of a mighty force. It threw my shovel and me wherever it wanted. I screamed out for my shovel, but to no avail. It was gone.

I was washed in, and then out. A log swung clumsily over me, nearly flattening me. I barely escaped. Debris lay over the beach. A bench from down the beach suddenly appeared, rocking to the movements of the waves. A buoy was now bobbing on a neighbouring beach.  Finally, I was washed up near a bush.

A few days later, a couple of boys came walking down the beach, curious to see what had washed ashore during the tsunami. One had a bag slung over his shoulder. They saw me glistening in the sun and walked towards me.

“Hey, it’s some kid’s beach pail. I wonder which beach it came from?” the first one said.

The second boy slid the bag off his shoulder and started to unzip it. He had a rifle, a .22 calibre to be exact. I watched in horror as he put a bullet into the chamber.

I started to quiver. Hey guys, this isn’t funny.

“Put it here, on the rock. Let’s see what this rifle can do.” He walked fifteen yards away and aimed at me. He fired and the bullet struck the rock in front of me and grazed my side. I jumped.

“I can do better than that,” the first boy said. He reloaded the rifle, took aim and fired. This time the bullet hit me in the centre. The force of the bullet sent me flying off the rock and ripped open my front and back side. They set me back up and took a few more shots. Each one did more damage.

Just then a truck with flashing yellow lights raced down the road toward us and two park rangers jumped out. “Hey, you two, get back here!” one yelled.

But the boys were gone into the bush.

“Locals, I imagine, out having some target practice,” he said. “Just once, I’d love to catch them and throw the book at them.”

“At least there was no one on the beach,” said the other ranger. “No chance of them hurting anyone. What were they shooting at?”

His partner walked over and saw me lying in the grass. He was about to pick me up when his actions startled some birds nearby. They squawked and flew away. Instinctively he looked up as he reached for me. He missed the handle and grabbed the top edge of me. My jagged metal edge sliced open his palm. “God damn it!” he screamed and threw me high into the air.

“Jesus Christ, what are you doing?” the second ranger screamed.

I strained to hear the answer, but before anything was said, I hit the water, and in seconds, the ocean flooded me. I was still spinning as I plunged deeper into the water. I went down quickly and quietly and gently hit the bottom. I landed upside down, about twelve feet below the surface. And there I sat.

Time changes underwater. The normal tick tock of the clock does not work at the bottom of the ocean. I didn’t notice this at first, because I was in shock. But as I grew accustomed to my new surroundings, I realized that my life had been turned upside down. I was useless. I could no longer carry sand to make castles or water to fill moats. I was on the bottom of the ocean with my sides ripped open. Could anything be worse?

Time, however, became my friend, my first companion. It didn’t say anything; it didn’t do anything. It just was there. There was some brightness to each day, but mostly shades of darkness. Time gave me the chance to think about myself and what I had lost. I also thought about the ranger who mistakenly grabbed me by my razor-sharp edges. My wounds cut others sharply and deeply. Maybe the bottom of the ocean was where I belonged.

I remained in this space for some time, until one day I noticed a small minnow swim through my bullet holes, stopping only to inspect my tin. Then the minnow went out the other side. I was surprised. A living creature had actually connected with me. More time passed before I noticed that the ocean brought debris to me, tiny particles of algae. These particles clung to my sharpened tin sides, thinly at first, but over time, the particles grew much larger, covering the jagged pieces completely.

Then a miracle happened: a hermit crab dug under my edge and crawled inside. I was protection for the young crab until his shell could harden! Gradually more fish began swimming through me. They fed on my sides. I started to feel useful again. And the holes that I thought had ruined me? Now those holes actually allowed more ocean to flow through me in a few seconds than that little boy could ever carry in me in a lifetime!

It was the ocean! The ocean brought the debris to my ripped sides and covered them. It brought a young crab to me for protection. But most of all, it flowed through me, over me, around me, and even under me. The ocean kept me stabilized. Instead of carrying a little bit of ocean in me, the proverbial ‘drop in the bucket,’ I now had a lot of ocean flowing through me. I wasn’t doing anything; the ocean was doing it all through me.

How long I have been here is unclear. I’m covered with ocean debris, but exactly how long that took, I’m not sure. The most I can say is that two crabs have made me their home for a while. Time is still measured by varying degrees of darkness interrupted by moments of light near the surface. My questions about life have not been answered, but they no longer plague me.   At the bottom of the ocean, where I landed upside down, I found a new reason for being. I’m part of something much bigger now.

The light is starting to fade from the surface. That’s my signal: it’s time for quiet darkness and time to end my story.


sand beach


DSC_0059Tim Fretheim is the spiritual care provider for the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C.  He ministers to persons who live with a mental illness and are in conflict with the law. He and his wife, Marcia, attend our weekly contemplative group.
Red & White Pail
Sandy Beach by Donna Geissler. Used with permission.
Rob Des Cotes is director of Imago Dei Communities, an ecumenical network of Christian faith communities based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
© Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim 2014.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission from Esther Hizsa is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided there is a link to the original content and credit is given as follows: © Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim 2013, 2014  http://www.estherhizsa.wordpress.com.

About Esther Hizsa

Esther is a spiritual director and writer. She lives in Burnaby with her husband, Fred, and they have two grown children and two grandchildren.
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