I turned around and there you were walking across the reef toward me, remember that? I couldn’t believe my eyes
what sense guided you directly to me in the dusk?
we sat here as the tide turned and came closer you smiled at how surprised I was but you could always find me even in the dark. I put my new sunglasses on the rock beside me and forgot them they’ll wash up somewhere someday. maybe you will find them
I come here a lot now to this spot with the secret bench on the sea side of the rocky point you can barely see from the sand
later, we picked our way back across the reef without falling gingerly as cats in the moonless dark you’d think it couldn’t be done but you and I have senses other people don’t
I wish I could write about surfing. I love it so much. It creates the shape of my life.
It’s easy to talk about a surf session, a break, a particular wave, or a board with other surfers, but writing about surfing is very hard. It’s like trying to paint a picture of wind or describe love. There are things that, when you wrap them in a blanket of words, they stop being what they are. I can describe to you a picture of surfing, but how can I tell you what surfing is like? It is motion. It is pain and delight and infinite patience. It is “stop” perfectly braided with “go.”
Can you tell me how to ride a bicycle? Explain it to me. What you say will not at all describe the actual experience of riding. It is a thing you know in your body, not in your mind.
Surfing begins in the sky, with heavenly bodies—the sun, the moon, maybe even the stars. The gravitational forces of the sun and the moon pull on Earth’s water, making bulges the planet spins through. And then there are the storms. Warm and cold air swirl in the sky. Storms form over the ocean and, like kiddos jumping on the bed, cause the surface to bounce up and down. These disturbances travel over thousands of miles of open ocean exactly the same way ripples radiate outward from the point a pebble tossed hits the water. They arrive at the coast as sets of waves.
We wait for them. It’s all very predictable.
A multitude of variables are constantly changing.
There’s not much to say when you write or talk about surfing except to describe the conditions. The swell direction—as in where the storm was. The size of the swell. The wind direction. The speed of the waves. The time of day. The water temperature. The length of time between sets. The height of the tide. Whether the tide is rising or dropping. The currents. The number of people in the water. Any time one of the variables changes, the entire experience changes.
All of the variables are constantly changing.
You must pay attention.
These are the lessons of surfing: Wait. Pay attention. Commit. Release fear.
Surfing Is Waiting
Most of surfing is waiting. You wait days or weeks for a swell to come across the ocean. You wait hours or days for the tide to come in or to go out. You hope and wait for the wind to switch, stop, or start. Right there we’ve whittled a lifetime into a few hours each week.
You paddle out into the ocean and wait. Wait for the set of waves. Wait for a good one. Wait for the best one. Wait, if someone else positioned closer to the peak than you are. Paddle. Stay in position. Wait. It doesn’t make the most exciting photos. Exciting photos are misleading. Most of surfing isn’t standing on a surfboard. Most of surfing is waiting, paddling, being ready, feeding brave thoughts to your heart. Exciting photos are monuments to the best seconds.
At Any Second
When the time comes to turn, paddle, and stand, you must be very strong, very fast, and very brave. You cannot hesitate or fear. This is why surfing is a lifestyle—because you must always be ready either to wait or to give 100% at any second.
Then the ocean’s conditions interact with your conditions: What you’ve eaten. What you’ve drank. How much you’ve slept. How often you’ve surfed lately. How happy you are or how sad. How angry. How much you love yourself. How relaxed you are. How afraid. Where your body holds pain. How much energy you have left. What board you are riding. How focused you are. How quick. How strong. How brave.
All of the variables are constantly changing.
You must pay attention.
The wave isn’t water. The wave is something else. It’s a pulse of energy, large or small, that moves through the water. Water itself lies flat. Waves move through it and shake it the way you shake your towel to be sure there are no scorpions hiding there. Water is an element. Waves are live moments that move through it. Water is the body; the wave is the soul.
We interact with them intimately.
From a Verb to a Noun
Somehow, waves and particles are the same thing in quantum physics. Separated unto itself, I cannot understand this statement. But in the context of surfing, it’s what we know instinctively. A wave is all of its moments. The wave is the swell on the horizon that you sense in the back of your eye before you can see it. It is the bulge in the water moving toward you, forming. It is the push behind you. It is the sudden slope you are diving into as you leap to your feet. It is the myriad of instants that shape and disappear over/under/around you as you ride. It is the boom of whitewater as the wave empties its last energy onto the sand bar, or the gentle fading into calm water as it ends. It’s not one of those things; it’s all of them. Any of them, separate from the others, is not the wave.
Get a camera. Take a photo. The wave turns into a particle. It stops being a motion and becomes an image; it switches from a verb to a noun. Long before you look at the photo, the wave doesn’t exist anymore at all.
You must pay attention.
These are the lessons of surfing: Wait. Pay attention. Commit. Release fear.
When you love surfing, it shapes your life. And so you love your life.
It all becomes one thing: Surfing, living, love, the water, the motion of waves pushing through it, waiting, the work of paddling, the courage to engage a mountain of water, what you eat, when you sleep, the coffee brewing at dawn. The magical moment when you release your coiled energy into a push, a leap, and moments of flight—this is the highlight. But surfing is everything you do if you love it.
Love is everything you do if surfing is your teacher and you have done your homework.
It was13 months ago that the world (mine) shut down. Remember that? Yours may have shut down before or after, but most places on the planet have been “closed” for some length of time during the last year. Isn’t that weird? Who would have thought??
I haven’t written about this. It’s such a polarized subject and I don’t like public conversation on polarized subjects. You may have noticed.
In March of 2020, Costa Rica closed its borders. For three weeks or until further notice which turned out to be November. Surreal. I never thought I would live in a world with closed borders, ever. I mean, there wasn’t even a war or anything. Amazing.
I was so scared at first. We all were. I was scared of the mass death I imaged would begin to sweep the globe. Social unrest. Violence. Scarcity. I wasn’t really worried about toilet paper, bread flour, or juicy steaks. I was worried about drinking water, rice, beans, cooking oil.
Ironically, we never ran out of a thing. Tamarindo was a booming tourist town fully stocked to supply thousands and thousands of visitors with everything they could want. And when the borders slammed shut and the thousands of people left, guess what. There was plenty of stuff for those of us who were still here!
Those months of lock-down were awesome. Not from a financial stand-point, of course, but from a quality-of-life standpoint. The nights went immediately from a noisy booming ruckus that started at sunset and ended at dawn, to complete quiet. I’ve never slept so well. The streets were silent. Not just quiet–silent. I could lie in my bed in the early mornings and listen to monkey troupes all the way back up into the mountains telling each other who was where and which way to go or not go that day. At first no one was allowed on the beach, but as soon as we were, every day was a family reunion in the sand. Seriously. Everybody you knew was there. We had all of Tamarindo to ourselves, just like we used to in the rainy season back in the old days. I remember after the government started letting people move around the country a little more and the first San Jose tourists started showing up. It was weird to see someone I didn’t know in line at the store or walking down the street.
We didn’t make very much money, but there weren’t a lot of places to spend it, either. For months, the bars and restaurants were very limited or closed. Only grocery stores and pharmacies were in business. There was even a period of time when people were so scared of each other I only had one or two friends who were brave enough to come over for dinner if I invited them. We had a lot of good times on those quiet nights in my kitchen. Nobody was busy. Can you imagine that? Can you remember? For months on end, no one was busy and tired. It was fantastic.
I don’t watch “the news,” therefore it has no power to frighten me. There are things I am afraid of, but they are not things that I see on tv shows.
Then Costa Rica opened up again and BOOM BABY, we’re back. It’s not “like before,” but Tamarindo is Tamarindo again. Traffic jams. Lines in the stores. Tourists who smell like Coppertone sunscreen and wear special big hats and flowy dresses they bought specifically to wear on the beach. I found this very amusing when “the world” opened up again and the tourists came back. I forgot about the thing of buying special flowy clothing to look pretty in on the beach. During Lockdown when the beach belonged to locals, there was none of that nonsense. Baseball caps. Board shorts. Bikinis. Old t-shirts. No clothes at all if you’re too young to go to school.
Who knows. People all over the world are getting vaccinated. This makes them feel much safer. As long as there are travelers, we’ll be ok in my town. In my country. New driving restrictions are returning next weekend, apparently, as “cases” are on the rise again. The restrictions don’t change much for me personally because it’s not the same as a curfew. The curfew is for your car, and I don’t have one.
Wait, so are we “better” because of all the vaccinations? Or are restrictions increasing because we are “worse?” I’m confused.
Of the people I know who have died in the last year, one of them may have been from this virus. I spoke to my family in Milan, Italy where the situation is supposedly completely terrible. They are furious because they say have essentially been on house arrest for one year. I asked them how many people they know who have died from the virus. They said two. Ok, wait. I’m confused.
I must be very very lucky.
I am very very lucky. I am aware of that.
I can’t help it. I have to go there. I’m very lucky. I live in a town where we can be outside in the sun all year long. We can run around barefooted. We are allowed to breathe air. We can get in the salt water every day if we decide to. We get dirt under our fingernails, inhale god-only-knows-what in the dust every time a car goes by, and our pets who sleep in our beds run around in the gardens and on the streets and on the beaches. These things provide immeasurable benefits for our health. We hug each other and kiss each other. Yes we do. I imagine that most of us here have been exposed to this virus and I observe that all of us are doing just fine. So far. We wear our masks in stores and on public transportation because we have to, and any other place we feel like we want to, if we do. I don’t. But some people do. So far we haven’t had trouble respecting each other. If we lose that, we’ve got nothing.
Six Feet of Separation
And now we wait to see what happens next. I am waiting with the television off. I am pretty sure that when the apocalypse comes, I will recognize it. And if it’s a tv show, I might decide not to watch. I might decide to go surfing or take a nap in the hammock. I don’t really want anyone within six feet of me, anyway, at either of those times.
i want to die in the arms of a March night in Guanacaste. heaven is close, then. angels hover above dry trees brushing branches with warm breath. chicharras clutch tiny twigs playing love songs on transparent wings.
Noche de Marzo
quiero morir en los brazos de una noche de marzo en Guanacaste. el cielo está cerca, entonces. los ángeles aletean sobre los árboles secos rozando las ramas con su aliento tibio. las chicharras, agarradas de ramitas diminutas, tocan canciones de amor con sus alas transparentes.
I spent a long time over the weekend writing up a post for today. But I realized during the night that I don’t like it. Meh. It’s about trying to be present in the present, not lost in the past or the future. It’s readable, but I’m not feeling it this morning. I even translated it into Spanish. But I don’t think it quite hits the mark.
So, instead, I’ll tell you about the present.
I’m in Washington State, half way through a vacation/visit to my sister and her family. It’s very cold. My niece and nephews have grown from toddlers into 6-foot teenagers. One is in college, two are in high school. Their paternal grandmother is in the ICU with pneumonia and is not expected to recover.
Last year over the holidays in Tamarindo, I promised myself this trip. I kept my promise. But it’s not like I expected. Nothing is like any of us expected. I guess that’s what the blog post I tried to write says, in different words. My parents didn’t come this year. My friends here are keeping their distance. Of course. There are a lot more sick people in this climate than in Tamarindo. And I don’t want to get it now because I don’t want to miss my flight home. All of that said, I so love being hunkered down, cozy by the fire, with no where to rush off to. I think I spent way too many hours of my life rushing places.
The last Christmas I spent in the States was 5 years ago. Pio was with me.
Now, do you see why I have to write blog posts to myself about being present in the present, not lost in the past? Yeah.
Today is Monday. The last Monday in 2020. Everybody says they hope 2021 will be better. That would be awesome. I found a lot of things to love about 2020 but that’s just me. I’ve been lucky. I’ve also been unlucky.
I’m going to drive with my sister and my niece over the mountains to Seattle today. I’m thinking of applying for dual citizenship, and I need to be fingerprinted for an FBI report. I expect it will be a dull read lol but I have to do it. There’s an outlet mall that we all love on the way there. We’re leaving in an hour, and should be back by evening.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to snow again. Before the weekend we’ll be toasting Happy New Year and I may very possibly be attending a funeral. Or not. Next week I give my sister back all the sweaters and fuzzy pants I’ve been wearing, and head back to the land of summer.
So there you have it: a glimpse of the past, the present, and the immediate future. Something is about to happen. I don’t mean today, I mean really soon. I feel it. I hope I like it.
I was talking with a friend the other day. He hadn’t realized I’m a writer, disguised as I am as a surfer, and just discovered my blog. He knew Bill and Barbara, so that’s what brought him to my writing. Then he made a comment that caused me to cringe. It wasn’t a criticism; it was an observation.
“I see you’re now doing mostly poetry,” he said.
I did a mental facepalm because I know exactly how silent I’ve been for months on end, and said something noncommittal like, “Oh, well, yes… Sort of….”
It isn’t really true that I’ve only been writing poetry lately. I’ve been working on a book, but that’s not ready to share yet. Maybe someday, but not now.
And the things I’ve been talking to myself about–the “Musings?” I can’t blog about them. I as in I wouldn’t/won’t. I could write about politics and pandemics because I do think about those things a lot, but I’m not going there. Too polarized. I dislike shit storms enough to do almost anything to avoid them–including keeping quiet.
My personal life in the last months has been a dizzying combination of overly boring and overly interesting. I know you’re used to me throwing down my personal life like a true exhibitionist, but I’m not doing it right now. Time has a way of giving me heavy doses of truth serum that causes me to spill all, so we’ll see. I’ve filled up the better part of a college ruled five subject notebook in the last few months, so the material is there.
I just want to say this:
It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Always dive off of the highest platform. Take the call. Say yes to suggestions. Do your fucking homework and hand it in on time, for the love of God. Don’t lie. Stay awake. Your gut instinct is the combination of the messages coming from your head and from your heart–listen to it. Not all advice is the right advice. Most advice is not the right advice. Climb trees. Drink the other beer. You aren’t going to live forever but you’ve lived before and your cells know it–on a molecular level you’ve already been almost everything. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t worry about making sense. If you breathe out all your air you can lie on your belly on the bottom of the sea. Get some sleep. Drink some water. Repeat.
Es Mejor Pedir Perdón Que Permiso
Hace unos días, yo conversaba con un amigo. Él no se había dado cuenta de que soy escritora, disfrazada como soy de surfista, y acababa de descubrir mi blog. Él conocía a Bill y a Barbara, y es esa historia que lo trajo a mi sitio y a mis obras. Hizo una observación que me dio causa para pensar. No fue una crítica; fue un comentario.
“Veo que ahora escribes casi solo poesía,” me dijo.
Mentalmente, agache la cabeza porque yo se exactamente cuan silenciosa he sido últimamente, mes tras mes… Dije algo evasivo como, “Ahh. Bueno, sí… Mas o menos.”
No es la verdad que he estado escribiendo solamente poesía. He estado trabajando en un libro, pero todavía no está listo para compartir. Quizás algún día, pero ahora no.
¿Y las cosas de que he estado hablando sola—los “Musings?” No puedo escribir sobre estas cosas en un blog. Es decir, no lo haría. Podría escribir sobre la política y las pandemias porque sí pienso mucho en estas cosas, pero por allí no me meto yo. Demasiado polarizado. Tanto me disgustan los berrinches virtuales que yo haría cualquier cosa para evitarlos—incluso callarme.
Últimamente, mi vida personal ha sido una mezcla mareada de demasiado aburrido y demasiado interesante. Yo sé que ustedes están acostumbrados a que yo revele todo como una exhibicionista verdadera, pero en este momento no. El tiempo muchas veces me da una dosis del suero de la verdad que me da por contar todo, asi que vamos a ver. En los últimos meses, he llenado casi todo un cuaderno de los universitarios de 200 páginas. Así que, el material está.
Por ahora, solo esto quiero decir:
Es mejor pedir perdón que permiso. Tírate siempre de la plataforma mas alta. Acepta la llamada. Di sí a las propuestas. Haga tu maldita tarea y entrégala a tiempo por el amor de dios. No miente. Mantente despierto. El instinto tus tripas es creado por la síntesis de los mensajes que vienen de tu cabeza y de tu corazón—escúchalo. No todos los consejos son los consejos correctos. La mayoría de los consejos no son los consejos correctos. Trepa los árboles. Toma la otra cerveza. No vas a vivir para siempre pero has vivido antes y tus células lo saben—al nivel molecular tu ya has sido casi todo. No tengas miedo de la oscuridad. No te preocupes mucho por tener o no tener sentido. Si exhalas todo tu aire puedes acostarte de panza al fondo del mar. Duerme. Toma agua. Repite.
I’ve been thinking about something. I’ve been thinking about it while I surf, while I ride my bike, in the early mornings when I’m neither awake nor asleep.
It’s June. I don’t know what that means to you, but it for me it dislodges something that lives deep in my bone marrow. It brings me flashes of unthinkable doctor visits, sudden plane tickets, a long morning run when I understood exactly what was happening even though I didn’t dare to say it, and the surreal sensation of packing suitcases for a trip that wasn’t a vacation. A lot of those days turned into poems.
Probably, eventually, if I live long enough, June will just be June. It will be different. Everything is always different, eventually. You can quote me on that if you want to. You can bet your life savings on it.
After June comes July. July reminds me of long walks, fruit and vegetable markets, chemotherapy appointments, and the ER. August follows, with more of the same. September is a hard month that takes me on a trip through the process of dying. Getting out of your body is as messy as getting into it. And then there’s October with its interminable silence. Clocks tick 24 hours a day. The sunlight is sharp and cold.
THAT WAS 3 YEARS AGO
You wonder how many more times I’m going to tell you this story? I don’t know. Imagine how many times it tells itself to me.
It’s a good story. If today was the end of it, you could say it has a happy ending. How’s that for optimism?
I read once that every 7 years every cell in the human body is replaced by a new cell. Have I written about this before? I might have. I think it’s important.
I’m writing about it now, because I’ve been thinking about my body. Almost half of my body wasn’t even there, three years ago, when Pio and I took off for Milan. These hands are only sort of the hands that packed the suitcases. The feet that walked through pairs of shoes on the streets of Milan trying to make space for all this—those feet are only sort of my actual feet, today. Half the cells in my body—from my ankle bones to the synapses in my brain—never even knew Pio. Half of these eyes never saw him. Isn’t that crazy?
And this: half the cells that make up my brain where the stories are held aren’t even the original ones who recorded the stories. They do the job of remembering the stories they’re told, I guess, but they weren’t even there in my head on the airplane, or at the market trying to remember how to say “cauliflower” in Italian, or in front of the TV together splitting a beer and potato chips (because at that point, why not?), or in the hospital room holding hands when that was all that was left. Imagine. A few years more and not even one cell in my body will have been there.
We remember things experienced in other bodies.
I think that explains everything. It explains how we can go on living. Because with every hour and every day, our bodies turn into other bodies that haven’t even experienced our own stories. Our brain cells that remember them were told the stories by previous generations of brain cells. It’s more hard poetry than hard science, but what a perfect place for them to meet. The stories remain, but something about the sound they make is different. Something about the tone. The sound coming from my bones is there, but it’s more of a hum, less of a scream.
You can’t stop it. You can’t make it hurry up. If you just keep eating some food, drinking some water, sleeping at night, and staying out of the jaws of crocodiles, it happens on its own. It’s beautiful. It’s brutal. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.
Do I sit around ruminating on this all the time? I do not. But it’s June. Part of me commences a 4-month walk through The Valley of The Shadow of Death.
I would like to say something meaningful at a time like this, with our world locked down and life suspended, but those are tall orders. What is meaningful? I could describe my daily experience to you, the peacefulness of my days and my nights. I am among the lucky ones, at this moment. I know that. Luck can change on a dime—I know that, too.
I am in familiar territory. I am the mapmaker of this place we are. I was exploring its contours before you all arrived.
There are ways in which what has happened in the rest of the world has thrown it, en mass, into my reality–the reality of grief. Not in every way, but in some ways. Now you have all had the rug yanked out from under you. Now your world has been shaken to pieces, too. Now you are discovering what I meant two years ago when I wrote about sitting and listening to silence, trying to take it all in. When I wrote about the vertigo of having no solid reference points. The waiting.
Welcome to the planet called Loss. Welcome to the solar system called I Did Everything Right But Everything Still Turned Out Wrong. Welcome to the galaxy called All You Can Do Is Wait. It’s in the universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For. The tour will begin in 10 minutes.
What are we waiting for? We don’t know. Whatever comes next. When will it get here? Someday. Some other day that is not today. Are we going to like it? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we get our old life back? I won’t. We’ll find out if you do.
Life, again, has proved right this belief of mine that no matter what it is that you think is going to happen, the thing that actually happens will be something else. Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Realize that what comes will not be what you expected or prepared for. Breathe. Wait. Learn to walk barefoot over rocks, bake bread, and sleep with the windows open. You wouldn’t believe how useful these things can be.
Meaningful? Perhaps not.
On this planet, The Past and The Future are separate islands in a sea so vast you cannot see one from the other.
I don’t know. Whatever the question is, that’s my answer. At least I’m honest.
The things I do know aren’t the answers to anything in particular.
The Tower of Babel
I think of the Tower of Babel. (If you missed Sunday School that Sunday, click here.) Before we all went into lock-down, we as a human species were one thing, invincible. Now we’re all in our corners–sent to our rooms, so to speak. This is different than the Tower of Babel story, because in the Bible story their languages were scrambled so they couldn’t talk to each other. We can still talk to each other. We talk too much, repeating things we heard someone else say, getting into heated disagreements in/over little black letters on a screen. The divisions are in place. It’s Babel. Different, but the same.
“They” closed the borders of the countries of the world. I live in a town that functions 100% on tourism. We don’t have any other industry. We don’t have any other way of earning our daily bread. We (not me personally at this time, but the citizens of the place I live) are hungry.
The streets are quiet. I remember 25 years ago when this quiet was normal. It was The Thing, not the absence of a thing. But it was different, then. There were more trees and fewer empty buildings. I love the quiet. I love the stillness. Finally something that is true is revealed from beneath something that was artificial. Does that make sense? To me, it does.
We fear crime. Stores, closed until further notice, have been emptied by their owners. Naked mannequins stand in shop windows. Restaurants are dark as caves, emptied of tables and chairs. Where has all the furniture gone?
I forgot there were this many monkeys. The hillsides are full of their voices just before dawn. They are everywhere. I thought they were gone–a thinning, endangered population that human activity was slowly extinguishing. Not even. There is nothing wrong with the monkeys. They just didn’t like us is all. Sometimes I’m not sure I like us.
Parrots. Have you ever listened to them? On a morning with no buses, no construction noise, no music from restaurants trying to attract foot traffic. I sometimes laugh at their jokes even though I don’t understand the words.
The ocean. It doesn’t need us. We sigh and suffer for it. We need it on our skin. We dream of it at night. And there it is, luminous, rising, falling, breathing its salty warm breath into the world, cleaner and more crystalline than ever. It isn’t one bit sad.
“When Things Get Back to Normal”
Nothing is ever going to be the same after this. I don’t think “things” are going to go back to being “like they were.” I could be wrong–let’s just take that as a given no matter what I say. We talk about, “after this is over,” and of course it will be over. Everything ends. But maybe we should drop the phrase “when things get back to normal.” Am I the only one who foresees a new normal?
I might know something about new normals.
Having the world implode into lockdown and watching society melt isn’t entirely dissimilar to the experience of having my husband become sick and die. It isn’t the same, but one is reminiscent of the other. Both things happened suddenly. Both things yank the rug out from under you. Both things cause you to have to rethink ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about your life. Both things destroy what was and leave you with god-only-knows-what afterward. Both things are surrounded by a lot of silence. Both of them involve waking up each morning and having to remember how “now” is different from “then” before you know how to live.
Remember how I confessed to walking and running on the beach with my eyes closed, trying to see with my skin and my ears? Now I can do it on my bike in the street. In little spurts, early or late. More than ever, being able to sense what is around me without being able to see it feels like a critical skill.
What’s around me/us that I cannot see?
I’m told there’s a virus–literally “your death of a cold.” I can’t see it. Should I be afraid of the air?
There is hunger around me. I can feel that. In the empty streets, I see friends who wave and smile. I also see strange people that I never seen before–people who eye me in a way I don’t like. In a house a few miles from here a few nights ago 4 people were shot. It sounds drug-related–somebody owed the wrong person too much money or something. I’m not afraid of being shot in the night. I’m not afraid of being hungry. I was also not afraid the government would shut the borders and that the restaurant owners would find it prudent to take home the tables and chairs. But they have.
Some people–people I know–are looking at the worst days of their lives. I am not. Not yet. Things have to be much different than this before they compare to the worst day of my life. I’ve been poor before. I’ve been hungry. I don’t talk about it much. Once, I made lettuce soup for my stepdaughter and pretended it was delicious (it wasn’t bad, really) because it was the only thing we had. I am a long long way from preparing lettuce soup for a hungry child who depends on me.
Something is Happening
Where am I? What is going on?
I love the silence. No cars. No buses. No dump trucks. No cement mixers. No music from bars. Nothing. I might be obsessed with it. I feel a sort of jealousy regarding it–it is mine and you cannot have it. I don’t want anyone or anything to touch it. A noisy motorcycle drove by this morning and I held my breath. It interrupted the locusts and the wind I was listening to. For a moment it drowned out the sound of the sea and it was like not knowing where I was.
I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I loved things the way they were. I was happy, then. But something has happened. Something is happening. Do you feel it? Things can be different. Better. Can’t they? If there is more than one way to be, can we be another way now that we’ve had this pause. Like children redirected after a time out?
Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?
We seem to be undergoing a species-wide crisis while all the other things on the planet are doing fine. Better, in fact, since our carbon footprint suddenly shrank several shoe sizes.
Some people say this is Mother Earth putting us back in our place. I don’t know. Maybe. Nature does this to all of her species once in a while–I don’t assume it’s anything personal. We’d like to think we get special treatment, but we don’t really.
I go to the beach to breathe in the sky and search for my sanity, and I find myself wondering: what does the planet even need us for? Besides building glass and concrete cities to cover the land and sucking fossil fuels out of the earth only to dump them into the sky, what can we do that other species can’t? Even an elephant can paint a picture.
I know what the earth needs buffalo for: to trim and fertilize the plains. It needs birds and monkeys to spread seeds that keep the jungles growing. Wolves cull the smaller mammals in the mountains. Hawks and foxes keep the mice population down. But people? Would there be too much of anything without us?
I don’t know. Not that I can think of. So what is our thing? We must have one.
And then I thought of one thing–one thing humans can do that other species can’t–not dogs, crocodiles, guanacaste trees, blue whales, daffodils, kitty-cats, boa constrictors, or bougainvillea.
We can appreciate aesthetic beauty.
Plants and animals are capable of appreciation–I have no doubt about that–but I don’t think they appreciate the beauty of a sunset or a brilliant rainbow. My cat laying under the hibiscus bush appreciates the shade and the cool ground, but he doesn’t care about the flowers. The dogs playing with coconuts on the beach love the game but they aren’t sighing over the colors in the clouds. A rose bush likes bees I’m sure, but it doesn’t appreciate how beautiful a butterfly is.
People can do that. It might be our superpower. It might be our duty.
I feel compelled to state these observations as I watch our species struggle in an identity crisis brought on by something so small as to be invisible. Other species can love. Other species can help each other. Other species can build and create. But are we the only ones who can give value to something simply for its aesthetic beauty? I think we are.
And, I don’t know. Is appreciating beauty going to save my life or yours if it comes down to that? I don’t see how. But there are a lot of things I don’t know, a lot of things I cannot conceive of in my little mind. I’ve got no health claims to make (unless we’re talking about mental health?); I just think this would be a great time to find something beautiful and appreciate the heck out of it. Go ahead: a cloud, a flower, a person, an animal, music, a work of art…
I’m joining you. It can’t hurt. Never underestimate the power of things you don’t understand and don’t even necessarily believe.
In place of a New Year’s resolution, I have a New Year’s image to keep present with me for the next 330-some days. It came to me as 2019 was ending—2019 that I promised myself would be The Year of the Open Hand. And it was.
2020 is The Year of the Knife. Not The Knife as a weapon; The Knife as a tool.
This image of The Knife presented itself to me one December morning as I was walking on the beach. Of course a knife can be used to injure, but that’s not the knife’s fault; a knife is useful for lots of things. In the hands of a surgeon The Knife can save your life. In the hands of a tailor, it shapes your clothes. In the hands of a hunter or a gatherer, it provides food. You can use The Knife to mark your path through the forest so you don’t become lost. Everybody needs one.
The Knife is necessary for separating. It separates what is useful from what is not useful. Sometimes it separates what is well from what is sick. It separates things into useful portions—think of an axe or a hatchet turning a fallen tree into something you can cook with or use to build a dwelling.
The Knife can open what is closed: a melon, a package, a locked door.
It splits yes from no. It severs now from later (or before). It divides too much into portions of enough. It defines. It peels away a bitter rind. It cuts the umbilical cord of beginnings and allows/requires things to become what they are.
I don’t know what I will need this Knife for in 2020, but it seems like an important tool to learn to use well. And carefully. You could hurt someone with it. You could hurt yourself.
Interestingly, a few weeks after The Knife came to me, I went to visit my friends who owns the deck of tarot cards that gave me such a fascinating directive at the beginning of last year. Again, I laid 3 cards on the table and turned them over. No devils this time. Whew. But there was The Knife—two of them, in fact—on the card intended to represent The Present: The 2 of Swords. On this card, a woman sits blindfolded with her back to the ocean holding 2 gigantic swords in her hands, crossed in front of her like an X. She is clearly a swordswoman, she is clearly well-equipped, she is clearly attentive and calm. Whereas she is non-threatening, she demands absolute respect. I like this girl.
So, happy Year of The Knife.
You can have one, too. Take an invisible blade, slip it into a sturdy sheath so that you don’t hurt yourself, and put it in your imaginary backpack. You have one whether you know it or not—of stuff you carry around with you. Put your knife in there and remember it when you have to separate what you want from what you don’t want, what you need from what you don’t need, or when a thing must be in smaller pieces to be good or useful to you. Choose not to use it to injure.
If your Knife is sharp and you are careful, you can make something beautiful with it. That’s what tell myself. That’s what I’m trying to do.