Monday, August 31, 2009

Laughing Into The Wind

I was standing in chest-high water, the waves slapping at my back like love-licks. Behind me was the wide wide ocean; in front of me was a water-colored beach – white sand, red lifeguard chair, scattered people in various shades of pink and brown stretched out under the sun that came down in wavy yellow beams.

My friend had left me to become one of those toasting people and so I was alone at the moment, a tiny island just off-shore.

It had been a busy weekend – another wedding! –and I was hungry for space. The sand slid and shifted under my toes which I had curled tightly in an effort to keep my balance. Hands on my hips, chin tilted toward the sky, I took a deep breath.

At just that moment, a pair of pelicans entered the frame of my vision, flying so low I could make out the line where their dark cartilaginous beaks meshed with their jiggly white pouches. I had never been that close to pelicans, never seen them flying so near people. I was startled, but not frightened. They were neither. And with a couple of flaps of long brown wings they were gone.

There are some things that evoke praise, some things that draw forth an eruption of amazement, some things that – rather than take your breath – give you an explosion of breath that pours out in a rolling swell of words. There are some moments when silence is blasphemy.

This was one of those moments.

And so it was that I stood there in the shallows of the endless sea and heard a voice that was clearly mine making exclamations of how very glad I was to be alive, how very grateful I was for the serendipity of pelicans flying low, how very much I wanted to make sure that I squeezed out of that day and every day all that was meant to be mine.

It is, I think, pretty much irrelevant to whom I was speaking – to myself or to the pelicans or to God. What matters is that the words came of their own accord, without hesitation and without editing. What matters is that those small puffs of wind were expelled into and absorbed by the larger wind that makes the waves that make the tides that make the sand into which my toes kept uselessly digging.

I opened my eyes, which I had closed momentarily, to see a boy, 11 or 12 years old, standing about 25 feet away, between me and the beach. He was looking at me. He was looking at me quizzically. He was looking at me as though he wasn’t sure whether to pretend he didn’t see me or to turn and run as fast as he could.

I realized, too late, of course, that the wind – the one that makes the waves and tides – was blowing in. In toward the beach. In toward where he was standing. And, yes, the poor child had heard my spontaneous invocation. I can only imagine what he was thinking.

I gave up the bad habit of allowing myself to be embarrassed a long time ago. There is absolutely no value to it and it takes far too much time and energy. I didn’t, then, feel my face turn red nor did I have an urge to look around as though I, too, had heard something strange and did not know from whence it came. I just looked at him, made as much eye contact as one can from that distance and watched him, in his pre-adolescent suspicion, scope out his mother a little farther down the beach and begin moving in her direction.

It was funny. Really. I am laughing still. Laughing at how silly I must have looked (I think I probably raised my hands at some point.) and sounded. Laughing at how astonished the boy was, his eyes and mouth frozen into three big circles. Laughing at how foolish we are to think that we odd creatures are ever anything but funny.

I waited a few minutes and then slogged my way through the water up onto the beach where I shook out a towel, stretched out and joined the rest of the pink and brown people, all of us different, all of us funny, all of us laughing in short sweet breaths of wind.

Copyright 2009

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