Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not In The Whirlwind

The early evening breeze, making its way through the cornfield whose stalks are now fading from bright green to dull gold, sounds like an advancing rain shower and I have to look up from my book to figure out which it is. No water, just wind.

Soft and easy it comes across the yard, so gently that the wind chimes hanging from the eaves over my head do not move, so gently that the thin leaves on the chinaberry tree vibrate no more than a blinking eyelash, so gently that the single hummingbird can float before the feeder, hesitate a moment as though she’s never seen such a thing before and then tilt her head slightly to plunge her beak into the fake flower like a needle into silk.

It has been a busy summer. A summer of weddings and parties and warm times with people I love. All good things. But there have been few moments of inactivity, few moments to sit on the deck and watch the hummingbirds. The feeders emptied last week without my noticing and I refilled them this morning with more than a dash of guilt and a whispered prayer for absolution. The birds, at least this one, seem to have forgiven me.

The larger question is whether I’ve forgiven myself.

Nothing has been neglected really. Nothing except the hummingbirds and the hanging baskets of petunias that, let’s face it, never really stood a chance in the constant heat. I’ve managed to make the telephone calls to keep the grass cut. I’ve sent all the birthday and anniversary cards for June and July. I picked enough blackberries to make a few pints of jam.

And, yet, in this moment, with my legs stretched out on the lawn chair, my hand curved around a glass of tea, and my breath easier than it’s been in weeks, I understand that what I’ve snubbed with my busyness, what I’ve slighted in my constant movement, what I’ve disregarded in my attention to the details of my to-do lists, is myself.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone who knows me well. We were speaking of esoteric things, peculiar ideas and polarizing opinions, unanswerable questions and undoubtable truths. I think – no, I’m sure – I was being deliberately obtuse. I wanted to talk, but my brain was too tired. I wanted to engage, but I was physically and mentally incapable of doing so. At some point, frustrated like an infant needing a nap, I replied to a particular question with a harsh, "I don’t know!"

I expected a reprimand. Or something along the lines of, "Sure you do." Or something that would allow me to rev up the tension, complain about the busyness of my life and elicit some sympathy.

What I got instead was, "Be still and know. You have to be still to know."


So now it’s Saturday. The perennials I spent the morning planting smile at me from the flower bed at the bottom of the deck steps. The sycamore tree whose bottom limbs, puddling on the grass, I’d trimmed away with Mama’s hacksaw sighs deeply with the extra breathing room. The hummingbird hums, sucking at the Kool-Aid in the hourglass-shaped feeder.

And I am being still.

Still and noticing that the sun is setting in a slightly different place than the last time I watched. Noticing that the kudzu on the trees in the branch between the house and the pond has completely obscured the view of the water. Noticing that my skin is browner, that there are no mosquitoes, that the humidity isn’t so bad.

I am being still and I can feel myself contracting and expanding, contracting to expel the waste of used-up energy, expanding to take in the pulse-beat of everything around me. Breathing out the hurry, breathing in the calm.

I am being still and, in the stillness, I know everything I need to know.

Copyright 2009

Sunday, July 05, 2009

From This Day Forward

In June, even the lowest tide is still high, making the beach a narrow ribbon of eggshell-colored sand. And so it was that there was just enough room, on this dazzlingly brilliant Saturday afternoon, for a few rows of white folding chairs, a line of serious men in black tuxedos, a loop of pretty girls in diaphanous pink dresses and, of course, the bride.

The walk down to the beach from the hotel, in high-heeled mules that click-clacked on the asphalt like miniature jack-hammers, had not taken long. There had been no breeze on the street and moving through the two o’clock, 105-degree heat had been like pushing through an endless succession of heavy curtains. But here at the edge of the water, where the waves spread out in thin pancakes, and the rocks over to the side caught the sound of rushing water and rolled it back out in a sustained whisper, it was almost possible – almost – to forget the trickle of sweat that rolled down my sternum.

I waited, there on the second row with the grandmother, for the guitar music to start and people I love so much it makes me ache to walk down the narrow aisle of sand. I tried to concentrate on the present moment, not the nearly 27 years of moments that had brought my Adam to his wedding day.

The old, old ritual moved through its steps. The words were repeated. The hands were joined. The flower girls dropped petals from their chubby hands and watched the sea breeze waft them away. At one point the minister stepped forward as the ocean slid under his shoes and, following his lead, the black tuxedos and pink dresses did the same. And then it was over.

Jenn and Adam, sporting new jewelry and smiles that came from somewhere deep inside, walked out together, hand-in-hand. What followed – the posing for photographs, the hugging of the same people over and over again, the repetitive but completely sincere declarations of how beautiful the bride, how handsome the groom, how hot the weather – left us tired and sated with happiness.

A week later, the photographer (a good friend of mine) sent me a few sneak peeks of the photos while the newlyweds were still in the Bahamas. I teared up over the one of Daddy helping Adam with his cuff links. I lost my breath over the one of me and beautiful, grown-up Kate. I giggled at the one of Adam skipping down the street, dragging Jenn along, bubbles floating in the air around them.

But there was one – a black and white – that told the story, that preached the sermon, that spoke all the unspeakable words. Adam and Jenn, hands clasped, are looking not at each other but over the shoulder of the minister at the advancing tide. Their faces show no worry, no discomfort, no concern that the rented tux or the ethereal white dress might get stained or damaged. There is no question about whether they should move to avoid the watery licks at their feet. There is no panic, just interest.

Anyone who has ever watched a beloved child grow up and choose a partner has done it with a catch in the throat, a breath held just slightly, wondering if what that child has learned about life and love and commitment will be enough to carry him or her through the days to come. Anyone who has ever made the promises knows how hard they are to keep. Anyone who has ever prayed prays on that day that the inevitable difficulties will be just hard enough to build strength, not so hard as to scar.

This is what I am thinking as I stare at the photograph – the one of my Adam and, now, my Jenn – over and over again. And in the staring I see them not just standing on the beach, but standing on the threshold of their life together – without fear, holding on to each other and looking in the same direction. It is, I think, a very good way to start.

Copyright 2009