Wednesday, August 1, 2012

YOU ARE HERE


Like most people, there are so many things going on at any particular time - around me, in the world, in my head - they are enough to keep me perpetually distracted. Calculating our aggregate nutrition for the week, stressing over bills that need to be paid with money that does not exist, the joker tailgating me, the maddening job search, the relocation process, calls to be returned, favors to be exchanged with friends….In short, responsibilities, obligations, life.  It is all unrelenting noise, even when it is joyful or welcome.  It is enough to keep me from being fully aware that I am a living creature on Earth, not just a body stuck in the motions of being human. Can you forget you are alive? Apparently.  

Once in a great while, I suddenly remember: this is real, I am physically here, and not for long. There are two particular settings in which this becomes vividly apparent:  at night and in the ocean. I am absolutely in love with both, and at the risk of sounding flaky, I am certain they are extensions of whatever I am made of on a deeper level than carbon compounds. Although...the ocean is probably spliced into my DNA, too, by generations of sea-goers before me. It is my Oz - truly great and powerful - and my Emerald City, where I remember everything that should be remembered and shed all that should be forgotten...for as long as possible. It is where I am reassured - for a short time - I have a heart, a brain, and courage. 

Swimming in the sea is a gift. A blue-green bloodletting of sorts. Waves thunder and retreat, drawing out all that is toxic while I quietly smirk at my melting Internal Naysayers and Guilt Guild who take up valuable space with all their bags of nag. 'I am on vacation, [suckers]!'  In return, I absorb its astounding energy sometimes with a lump in my throat - awed and humbled. The conversation we have is secret and sacred. It is my interpretation of prayer, I suppose, stripped of all pretense. It delivers hope, strength, stamina, gratitude.

My night owl ways, I can't explain. All I know is on a good day, 10 p.m. is when I wake up and regain perspective. I have no less love for the merits and aesthetics of day, but there is something so intriguing about the subtle goings-on of the world after dark. Night is filtered of chaotic layers of stimuli, and what is left comes into focus. It is the world fine-tuned. Whether in the midst of rural stillness or a city fever, that level of clarity is soothing to me.

Two weeks ago, I was recharging at the beach with my family when a long-forgotten experience came to mind. It was a memory of my own black depression almost 20 years ago in which I had what I can only classify as a twilight dream…I was neither here nor there, literally. In it, both of my 'elements' - the night and the sea - were pivotally combined, reinforcing the notion that they must be vital to me on a primal level. 

For those of you who have never experienced it, depression at its finest is a dark and twisted force, the origins of which I have often wondered go beyond matters of flesh, blood, and biochemistry. It is that dark. It is also, at times, physically paralyzing. If left untreated long enough, you can sink beyond landmarks like chronic irritability and serious difficulty making simple decisions (because choosing from all the ridiculous variations of orange juice, cold medicine, and shampoo isn't hard enough for a healthy mind). Eventually, you arrive at a place so low it feels as close to dead as you can get and still have a pulse.  To those living outside of your head, it looks like self-pity or laziness when in fact you do not really feel much of anything at all. A blank slate. If I had to give it a flavor (everything goes back to food, doesn't it?), it would be called "Rice Cake" or "Communion Wafer". I kid…..It is even blander than that.

The last time it was that bad for me, I was lying on my college dorm bed listening to Peter Gabriel's Us or Kate Bush or some other cheery collection. (I forgot to mention Walking on Sunshine is not on the depressive's soundtrack.) I don't know if I was just deeply relaxed or asleep but I fell into an experience like no other: the vision and sensation of lying on a sheet of glass just below the surface of a warm blue-black ocean, being pulled across the water under dim moonlight. I felt permanently alone but totally at peace with it. For a few minutes, my mind had found bliss in the middle of a system shutdown. That said, it was also when I learned how The Beast, the great deceiver, seduces you into staying. "You can't move anyway, why don't you get comfortable? Make yourself at home in the dark."

At the end of the semester, my parents took me to their home in Charlottesville, Virginia (thank you) where I recovered and vowed - by the Power of Merck - never to return to that underworld. It cost me things I can never replace, which is all the more reason to live consciouslyWhat I experienced that night in college makes me think that if we are forced to a certain point - whatever the cause - our minds seek protection in the things that historically soothe us the most. If only we were more apt to tap into those resources than ignore them.

Flash forward to the night after we returned from the beach. I caught up with one of my nearest and dearests who was heading back overseas for a few months, capping off a whole week of me feeling connected to all things and people who set me straight. Now what? With windows wide open and crickets blaring, a familiar restless temptation arrived after I hung up the phone. It pulls at me and says, "go explore the night" but I consistently ignore it for two reasons. 1) While this is a relatively safe town, darkness breeds opportunity and the bad seeds of the world seize opportunity; and 2) there is a long-standing consensus that human mothers ought not leave their young to go walk the streets after dark. It's just bad PR, really, and what devoted single mom wants another crappy label?  

Add this gigantic itch to the fact that I was withdrawing from the beach, and I guess now it is clear why I had the most juvenile urge: to run out the back door and go outside to play. I jokingly mentioned on Facebook my disappointment that as grown-ups it is socially unacceptable to go knocking on doors to ask friends to come out and play, and even more so near midnight. One friend who never disappoints replied with something of a "why not?". Oh yeah…..why not?!  With my daughter at a friend's house, I took off on her big red Pee-Wee style cruiser and giggled all the way to the school parking lot.  From there, he took me on a follow-the-leader game around our movie-set small town.  

We headed down the dark gravel road behind the school (creepy!) where we had a run-in with a black & white cat we thought was a skunk, turning my friend from bass to soprano mid-sentence.  We went past the playground and across the street to the old Catholic school yard where I learned he was a repeat Jump-rope-athon champion. (Wait. This whole time I have been best friends with one of those overachieving kids I wanted to be like only up to about jump - I don't know - 75? He won the coveted AHA track suit and everything?!) Then it was down another silent sidewalk, disappearing in the black between street lights, trying to hear what he was saying to me as he trailed off in the dark, flowers and grass and soil hanging in the air around us. The whole way, I was grinning from ear-to-ear. I was out at night and feeling very much alive. Not thinking about what once was, not worried about what will be, just living in Now...like kids do. It was utterly divine.  

It is all being swept away again by the details of being an adult, but here are some ideas I am trying to keep alive along with us…..I managed to disarm the Beast at age 19 and am fighting like mad to teach my daughter to do the same after trauma and circumstance may have switched on my errant genes (enter: the Guilt Guild). So, it is shameful that I of all people would need reminding about being present in the moment. In the blur that we call our lives, we miss so much. We are often just robots doing things, and we are increasingly out of touch with that spirit that is so pure in childhood. This is what we couldn't wait for? 

So I say, whatever your ocean or night is, seek it out. Fight to have it as often as possible. For the love of Oz...Now is all we are guaranteed. Soak it up, breathe it in. As for me, the next chance I get, I am hopping back on that bike for another midnight tour with my friend, passing through the sweet scents that are richest in the wee hours, made just for those who arrive for the late show.    

When I do, I will think again as I did that night:  There is no need to find myself. I am in this moment, aware of my place, my scale, my geography. I Am Here.  





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