Hello from North Haven.
Not for the first time this year, the news cycle has left me floundering, gasping for air, groping for the right words to express my fear and anxiety. I’m not ready to articulate all that again, to hash out the arguments and the counter arguments. Suffice to say, I am afraid.
But, short of continuing to articulate my views, donate money where I see fit, and broadening my students’ worldview through music, theater and literature, there’s not a lot I can do in the face of this anxiety, except feel anxious. And when my daughter interpreted my demeanor – the shortness of my breath, my unfocused eyes, the hunch of my shoulders – as anger, I realized spinning my wheels was only going to ruin both of our days.
So I let Penrose lure me outside. Once there, we blew bubbles from the porch swing and drew on the flagstones with chalk. While she scuffed around in the sandbox, I toured our gardens. The tomatoes are mostly still green, the radishes bolting. My pole bean, squash and nasturtium combo enjoyed a brief glory and was mowed down by deer. The same pests munched the leaves on my potato plants, ignoring the toxicity of the nightshades. The more effort I put in, it seemed, the less return.
The inverse was true as well: from a wilderness of brambles at the edge of our yard, a highly productive blackberry bush had emerged last summer, and after a judicious pruning in the spring was going gangbusters. I filled my hand and then my shirt with the glossy plump berries, the product of a bush I’d never watered or weeded. Stepping carefully into the thicket, avoiding thorns, there was no room for anything else in my finally quiet mind. There could be snakes, or ticks, or thorns to scratch my bare legs, but no matter. I waded in deeper in pursuit of my prize.
After exhausting the berry patch, I took Penrose and our dachshund to the beach. Boy Scout Beach at low tide is full of rocks to climb, crabs to catch and periwinkles to hum to. Away from my iPad, with its news alerts and Facebook threads, the knot in my chest unwound further. Now I could focus on keeping the grossest decaying sea creatures out of my dog’s mouth, and spotting Pen as she scaled boulders exposed by the tide. After an hour we headed back to the house for leftover pizza. I made the mistake of looking at the Internet and set myself back a bit.
After Penrose went down for her nap, I met up with a friend to go for a swim. In the car I was tempted to bring up my fears, but the thought of rearticulating it exhausted me. We talked about other things as we waded into the chilly waters of the tidal inlet. After a count of “one, two, three” we both ducked under and began a leisurely breaststroke towards the mouth of the cove. Of necessity my breathing deepened and regulated. I focused my eyes on the choppy waves, timing a little lift to avoid getting smacked in the mouth with salt water. We swam on, almost making it to open water before turning around and riding the tide back in.
Finally, I forgot to be afraid. My body in the water needed my attention as seaweed tugged at my limbs and salt sprayed my eyes. When we made it back to the beach, I was tired and chilled, too tired to be afraid anymore.
The feeling stayed with me through a hot shower and a snuggle in Penrose’s bed as she woke up from her nap. All four of my limbs relaxed, like the deepest shavasana pose. My chest was open and my breaths deep. The pettiness of human disagreements was no match for the spontaneous miracle of a blackberry bush, or the chop of the wind, or the inexorable tug of the tide.