Thursday, February 26, 2015

I held my breath and you said something

Once upon a time, and it feels very much like a once upon a time situation in the sense of how far back (but not really, not really), I lived in a breathtakingly beautiful city. Inescapably beautiful. Punch-you-in-the-face, Tim-Riggins, Jordan-Catalano beautiful. My daily drive to and from work was an art school short film.

When you live in such a place, I think you tend to become lazy. You are used to the constant assault of picture perfection. Just before I left, I could walk down the street without being knocked off my feet. In the beginning, I remember talking with my brother at a rooftop party in San Francisco and blurting out, waving at the vistas all around me (and admittedly a little better with the help of spirits), "I think we've found the promised land!"

Which, in retrospect, is interesting, because it wasn't the promised land at all. It was a perfect moment. There is no promised land, I'm sorry to say. But there are perfect moments. Some of them are big. Like when you say goodbye to your best friend in an airport in Germany and know you'll never be close again. Or when you graduate from college and there are bubbles in your chest that are a mixture of nervous anxiety and optimistic excitement. When you hold your niece for the first time. When your cousin, after just doing something amazing, tells you that your support and encouragement inspired him towards that. When you make the decision to completely overturn your life to pursue a pipe dream and that moment that you realize the dream is going to come true. A first kiss. Then that first, intentional kiss. A perfect night out on a New York summer night. Sitting around a fire in the middle of nowhere in Maine. Standing over a roaring waterfall in Argentina.

There is a lot I don't have in my life. But sometimes we miss the trees for the forest. From the outside, perhaps it seems I don't have very much. And yet if you strung together all my perfect moments, it could be just as beautiful as the fog settling over the Golden Gate Bridge on a perfect San Francisco fall morning.

In San Francisco, the beauty was blatant and intentional. I loved it. I'm not sorry. But I realized that there are other kinds of beauty. Believe it or not, New Jersey was beautiful back when I lived there so many years ago (and probably even now). And where I live now is very much the same. It is easy to overlook. When I first moved here from San Francisco, I just viewed it as a means to an end. Good enough, but nothing special.

I don't feel that way anymore. It's not a beautiful place. That is true. But yesterday, I realized a cherry blossom tree has been growing in my front yard for the last three years and I never noticed it until then. In the fall, little yellow leaves gleam against the sun and sprinkle down onto the sidewalk on my way to work. In the heavy rains, everything turns a deep shade of green. Today, when I was walking home, another day of working late hours and not getting home before sundown, these very large dark trees waved out to me against the midnight blue sky. And it's not a beautiful place. But it will do.


Once upon a time, and this really was once upon a time, that far back, so far back that sometimes I can't believe I've been alive long enough for it to have been that far back, I used to get these letters (paper letters, no less) from the love of my life. Or what I call the love of my life, but I'm not dead, so who knows, that remains to be seen. We were all angst in those days, and back and forth's of what if's and maybe's and if only's. He was a very good writer, and I blame (or credit) that as to why I fell so hard for him. He had that Hemingway economy; he could explain better in five words what I couldn't quite put my finger on in five hundred. Once he wrote me a letter, and I don't honestly remember what it was he was turning over in his head or confessing to me. It was something that at the time twisted my heart in knots, but now it just seems likely to have been variations on a theme of wanting something to work out that was never destined to work out. He wrote some very anguished lines, the specifics of which I don't remember.

And then in the next paragraph, probably more to himself than to me, he wrote, "Pause. Take a sip of tea." And the entire tone of his letter changed after that.

Such a stupid, simple little phrase. Sometimes I don't actually fix myself a cup of tea. But I think of that saying all the time. I sometimes think he was put in my life just so that he could deliver that line. For lo and behold, I can be the queen of hyperbole and overanalysis and anxiety. I used to get crippling stomach aches when I was a child from just the thought of going to school. And every once in a while, I get into such spirals. A shame spiral, or a rage spiral, or a stress spiral, and I think the sky is going to fall on my head, and I hear this violent crescendo leading up to some fatal moment.

Then I take a slow, deep breath, let it out and calm myself. It's not always a cup of tea. Sometimes it's Dylan telling me, "all you can do is do what you must." Sometimes it is going to bed and forcing myself to believe that tomorrow is another day, another chance. Come to think of it, he and I read Candide together in college, and I don't know if all is for the best in this purportedly best of all possible worlds, but I do know that taking a breath, pausing, taking that sip of tea, it's a good way to cultivate your gardens.

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