Just a Glimpse
On my more than hour-long walk yesterday along a windy ridge line of miles of sidewalk between vast suburban neighborhoods, I saw just one other pedestrian. I passed elementary school children exploring their live oak-shaded playground and middle schoolers with various levels of enthusiasm running and walking around their fully exposed track, both groups contained and protected by the high fencing surrounding their outdoor spaces. Aside from my briefly passing these people—and drivers in cars even more briefly passing me—I had the sense of thousands of cubic miles to myself. For the entire time, I could rotate 360 degrees and scan the arc from horizon to atmosphere and back again, and there wasn’t a single cloud in sight, just a blue expanse, deepening in shade with the infinity above, lightening where it met far-distant trees and buildings. I soaked up the warm sun and quickened my pace and was flooded—as usual when I walk—with gratitude to be alive and be moving.
And then I drove to the care home, to visit my mother there. I found her in the garden across from her room, just her and her friend in the enclosed space of flowers and painted boulders from a recent activity, the two of them sitting close and touching each other’s arms and hands and watching and commenting on the passing small planes and the encircling hawks visible in the square patch of sunny sky above the courtyard. Where our conversations once sustained long and complicated stretches of narrative nonfiction, as her disease has progressed, I have witnessed and wondered at the movement into fiction—a making up of story to explain a confusing present or a vaguely remembered past—and now into the lyricism of poetry and song, with its looping choruses, its tangential bridges. As setting and plot and character have diffused and conflated in tangled and fading memory, emotional themes still resonate along throughlines, sometimes in conflict, other moments in peaceful resolution. Yesterday, she was smiling and laughing and agreeing with him and what he said, at me and what I said: Yes, yes, yes.
I hope that I won’t ever forget the summer moment, years ago, when I was wrestling with a persistent existential threat and my sister invited me and my three boys to swim in her (now also my) neighborhood pool, and I brought to our time together all the dark internal agony over my (now I know temporarily) intractable problems, when I realized: While nothing outside of this moment has magically disappeared, this moment itself is perfect. The sky above is blue. The air is warm. The trees are green. I am swimming in clean salt water with my sons and my sister and her baby, and we all love each other. And I could bask in the radiance of that gift; I would bask in it; I still bask in it.