For the second time in my life, I spent the August long weekend grieving the loss of a dear friend to the depths of a beautiful Canadian lake. That is two times too many. Both were men I adored for being true rebels, adventure seekers with tremendous respect for nature and a love of the water that took their lives too soon. Both died doing something they loved, at peace with their surroundings, leaving those of us who loved them envious of their spirit for life, even in death.

I love water and I fear it. For reasons I cannot explain, I needed to be near it the day after our friend Allan’s funeral. The Carpenter, most deeply impacted by this tragedy, reluctantly agreed to come. Like me, the sadness of Allan’s passing reminded him that, in the end, all we have left of those we’ve lost are lessons and memories. I knew there would be a greater lesson in a family field trip. I wanted to make a memory.

It turns out that the Carpenter is a master at skipping stones across water. It is embedded in his carefree childhood memories of time well wasted. His two protégés, our children, watched in amazement, counting in unison the number of his stone skips, screaming when he got past ten bounces; “ eleven, twelve, thirteen, awesome Daddy.”  His rocks would skim across the water, touching down long enough to ripple the water before gliding again, so close to the surface and yet, in perfect symmetry to the lazy waves.

I stopped to watch our children do their best to imitate their father’s graceful toss. “Lightly now, skim the water, don’t just toss it in,” he explained. “Keep trying. Don’t give up, it takes time.”

True enough. There is an art to skipping stones. It can be frought with frustration, yet rewarded in the satisfaction of a well skipped stone, cast with perfect ease.

There was the lesson. Skipping stones is a metaphor for life. It begins with the careful search for the right stones. Look hard. Dig deep. The right stone is there. Then you must learn to throw the stone at the right angle. It takes patience, humility, and confident determination. Sometimes your stone will plop into the water with a mighty splash. Sometimes it will soar clear across the still water and never skip at all. These are never failures; they are just lessons in how to throw the stone better next time. Success is not measured by the distance or number of skips, but by the poetry and grace of that stone in balance with that water. Magic.

Moments like this remind us why we had children, why we challenge fate and open our hearts to love, and ultimately loss. A simple stone and a lake become the classroom for life.  Show them respect for nature, for the gifts therein, ever present with the danger, because life is ripe with both. There will be sadness, heartbreak and fear, but there is hope, laughter and beauty in second chances. Search for your stone and throw it without fear of failure. Be satisfied with each try, and then try again. This is the gift of right now. It’s the realization that everything gets the chance to glide, to skip, to splash in the water, until we too become water and sand. Peaceful.

There is art in skipping stones. There is art in a life well lived. Both are worthy of perfecting. Thank you to those who taught me well.