The Christmas I missed. All the year(s) and (s) and (s) I missed by working and stressing, stressing, and working. The brunch I didn’t savor. The friendships I took for granted. The winter rain I wished was over. The doomed relationship I spent decades trying to save. The diaper years, the cheeky teenage years, the cramming for tests and essay-grading, parent-conferencing, no-sleep slumber partying years, and all the hours and months and decades of wishing for “something” else. In that self-imposed vortex of misguided priorities, I lost sight of how fast the car was driving. The blur. The air. The paint brush loaded with blues and greens, magenta and dark purple.
A lyric-less piano solo ribbons in and out of a sliding glass window, stitching together a tapestry I’m trying to unravel.
“What did you do today?” my roommate amigos ask.
I searched in vain for affordable housing for my weary, ex-husband. Looked up resources to help Monet. Swam. Walked. Read a bit. But mostly I just sat on the balcony and looked and thought and tried to understand the story, my characters—me—in this place I’ve never been to before, never seen from this perspective, my hometown of 66 years.
What brings me back to the place where I started? Are there secrets? Something I missed? A forgotten treasure buried in the backyard or tucked away in the attic? An abandoned kitten I needed to save? A soul I needed to free?
The boats drift past, and the sun-bathing seal sits on the dock where she’s lounged since I opened the blinds this morning, stretched out, next to the cormorants who leave her alone to relax and prepare for the evening moonlight swim with her pals who yip and yawp all night long like it’s Single’s Night on a Carnival Cruise.
I envy the wild creatures who live with abandon and entitlement. This is their home, not the boaters’ or the balcony stare-ers’. They don’t fear the cold temperatures or rogue waves. They enjoy. As do the flying critters of the sea who claim the surrounding trees as perches, dive into the placid sea when hunger strikes, then groom their salty frocks with the attention of a sculpture or hair-tweezing facialist.
I will be here for three more weeks (unless my roomies want to extend our stay) to take it all in, to find myself in the mirrored marina waters, to become the skimming pelican and diving egret, to feel the rumble of the crashing waves in my chest, and bathe in the precious space of Now.
I used to catch my father staring at the garden for what seemed like hours. He did it often, much to the irritation of my task-focused mother who would scold him for wasting time. His response was hearty, consistent, and often expressed in his characteristic full-chested chuckle, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare.” I didn’t know it at the time, but he was quoting the poet William Henry Davies.
He was always reciting poetry that I thought he made up.
I can see now that Dad was a poem. Not a poet, but the actual cliffs and rivers and rhymes he memorized and recited with the passion of an opera singer.
Dad figured IT out. What this life is all about: Loving IT. Loving each other. Doing your best. Not striving to be more, spend more, love more than you’re capable of giving. Forgive. Give. And when you think you can’t, DO! Oh, and there’s no such thing as the word, can’t.
Forgive and forget, he always reminded us. Holding grudges, just like worrying, is a waste of time. And he was blessed–despite decades as a carpenter and exposed to a litany of caustic chemicals—to have a lot of time. He lived until he was 92, died on New Year’s Eve more than a decade ago. Yet, sitting here looking at our ocean, the one he moved our family to after The War, the one our immigrant parents reveled in during surfside picnics and afternoon swim sessions, I can feel my parents’ presence. My dad’s childlike spirit was infectious. He never, ever stopped hoping or believing in the possibilities of a day. Kids and animals were drawn to him because he never stopped having fun. He was always up for a good laugh, a spontaneous jig, and a pint of Guinness. He never turned into a grumpy old man
What would he say to me now?
Don’t miss another Christmas. Your last one will come soon enough. Be glad where you are, wherever you are. Know that I am always with you, loving you, and am so very proud of you.
I don’t hear his voice anymore. It’s long since gone. But I hear the cresting waves and the ripples of the passing boats and am awestruck by the cloud-less, golden sunsets that have greeted us every night since we arrived.
Is it because He is here? His presence. His love. His mercy. His forgiveness and strength. The peace and understanding that I crave?
To live full-time in a landscape created by The Creator? Saturated in love and beauty. An environment that shatters trepidation and fear, that says, you belong, you’re important to me, to the planet.
From the second floor, in a temporary, rented dwelling, my feet not rooted to the sandy soil of Cambria, the Islands, the Sierras, the geography my soul adores, I feel particularly close, attached, anchored to an unending, open-chested, breathe deeply, Truth: Love as boldly as the wild creatures, as the sea, as the waxing crescent moon. Love like an adoring parent loves her child. Like the purity and longevity that a sweet pup, my Monet, feels for me. Holy. Unconditional. Forever. Love.
I don’t need to do or be anything other than be myself. And neither do you.
As night falls, no one notices me from the balcony. Those who sail past, never look up. But I do. I look at them; I look beyond. I see the jets at LAX take off and land. I study the solo sailors, listen to their songs, and observe the ebb and flow of tides. This ritual, this routine of doing nothing, is everything, allowing me to return to the thing I do, and have done since I was 9 years old, my grandson’s age, when I began to feel different, alone, and yet part of something bigger than I couldn’t understand at the time. Before words like God or grace or religion or going to church become part of my lexicon.
Then, and now, I am a student of the seal, who even though it’s almost sunset and she’s been hanging out on the dock all day, is fine and dandy being herself, doing what she needs to do to get through the night and the next day. She well may be the best swimmer in the marina or the sexiest catch in King Harbor, but right now she’s taking the time to re-charge before the next storm calls upon her to be brave.