I’d felt somehow both untethered and trapped this afternoon; after having spent a morning transported to Maine while reading Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge with the soundtrack of a rain in L.A, I was suddenly antsy. Needing to be do-er. Buzzing about, checking the outdoor cat food, getting soggy in the rain. Scooping out the morning’s cold grounds from the red enamel French press to caffeinate our potted plants whose yellow-tipped leaves told me they were in need of nitrogen, checking in on the other plants, trimming away dead or dying leaves in order for the others to thrive.
I’ve learned to parent myself when I feel like this – emotions live in the body. MOVE. I leave for a walk to try to strip away the buzzing thoughts swarming my mind, focus on the present: the birds in one bush sounding almost like an electrical current, while the lone bird above them sings a clear set of notes.
At the top of the hill, an empty lot. The footprint where the house once was looks small now, my sense of space off-kilter without walls and things that make up a home: couches and tables and books and lamps and framed photos – things that somehow by filling a space make it more expansive.
Before the house was torn down and the land torn up, it was shrouded in trees and vines, messy and verdant and overgrown. We’d sometimes hear music from inside, but could never see anyone or anything. It was always a little wild, a little spooky. Now just dirt with patches of grass growing in a rectangle outlined in chain link fencing. Now a large apartment complex down the hill is visible, downtown’s skyline of skyscrapers miles away seemingly stacked directly on top of the brown rooflines, the post-rain grey sky and its soft light changing one’s perception of depth.
Along the edges of the lot I spot the deep maroon leaves of several castor bean plants, a few small yucca plants with their solid green spikes, and a small carpet of Bermuda buttercup. When I squat to photograph the delicate yellow flower, I realize that its shamrock shaped leaves sparkle with drops of rain, some collecting in the center to form what looks like a jewel. It shapeshifts into a teardrop at my touch and runs off the edge, disappearing.
As I cross back past the electrical bird chorus and the van’s current song drifting up into the trees and grey sky, a passage I’d read this morning in Olive Kitteridge plays in my mind:
“There were days – she could remember this – when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that there were living it.”
It feels especially difficult to be aware enough to be quietly joyful, to know that we are *living life* in the day-to-day moments during the stressful constant of Covid, when friends and family are moving through grief amidst a pandemic – years of uncertainty and questions unanswered.
It was always this way though, wasn’t it? Now, much of the façade of certainty most of the privileged lived behind has been stripped away – we’re able to see more clearly what was always there behind the busyness and convenience of our lives: A mixture of electric birdsong and heartbreaking melody, of things torn away and torn up and cut back to reveal something not previously seen, or new growth, of stooping low and slowing down to see that what appears a delicate diamond reveals itself a far more precious element – water – that shapes and shifts and flows and evaporates but never really disappears.