Last night, the four of us went swimming at one of our neighborhood pools. Evening is my favorite time for that. There are usually just a handful of others using the pool, and by the time we leave, we sometimes have it all to ourselves. A bonus is that no one needs sunscreen.
The pool sits high on a hill, with a view of the valley and the city lights of Phoenix. When we get there in time, it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset. Last night, the sky was already dark, and a curve of moon, not quite new, leaned against the sky to the west.
The kids jumped in right away, and their squeals of laughter echoed in that way that sound does when it bounces off water, how it sounds both empty and full. We played a spirited game of tag, in which I was reminded just how tricky and smart my kids can be. We kicked around and treaded water and swam a few strokes. Waited for the next cannonball from Boy.
It’s been a long week. Plans have shifted and stirred up new concerns. I was tired from it all, from weighing things. From wondering what is the right thing for us, and rearranging plans in my head in order to accommodate different possibilities. Even though there’s no bad choice to make, we have to consider the lifestyle and financial ramifications of the options. Enough already, right? Just decide! you say? And I agree. (I think we have. Fingers crossed.)
Rilke said to “love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.” But what about the times when it all feels like questions? When I yearn for certainty? I used to like the unknown, the unplanned, the what-may-be. And I suppose I still flirt with it and give it my number sometimes. But while I know that nothing is certain and we can’t know what will happen one day to the next, I’ve been feeling that, for once, it would be nice to feel like a pioneer driving a stake into a parcel of land. To say, “Here. This is my place.”
So to be almost sure of what we’re going to do feels like (at the least) I’ve got the stake raised above me, ready to drive it into place.
But guess what? I let that all go last night. A whole hour or two unspooled without those worries invading my mind.
After we swam for a while, I asked Mr. H to keep an eye on both of the kids and went off by myself.
I lay back in the water, relaxed and weightless. Above me, the Big Dipper scooped its share of the sky. Birds (swallows, I think) swept through the air, dining on the bugs that were drawn to the lights around the pool. The moon sank by small degrees toward the horizon. I decided that my troubles could just fit into the curve of it, so I settled them there and watched the moon fall beneath the roof line.
For long minutes, I floated, looking at the sky. It’s something I don’t do enough, not at night. Our days here are like banners of blue (as long as you don’t look toward the fuzzy cloud of smog that hangs over downtown). And at night, we’re far enough out that we can see a decent batch of stars. The sky isn’t crowded with them, but we can find the constellations easily enough, and even see the brightest meteors when they come along.
If you want to know how I feel about the moon and the night sky, here’s a clue. On my right hand I wear a Jeanine Payer ring. Her jewelry is engraved with quotes, and I had my ring engraved to read:
Watching the moon at midnight, solitary, mid-sky, I knew myself completely, no part left out. –Izumi Shikubu
They are simple words, and true. True for me, at least. I’ve always gone weak-kneed at the come-ons of blinking stars and a slow moonrise, though my true love is a moonset.
So maybe I’m a liar, after all. As much as I cry after wanting roots, my soul seems to sing for things that are suspended, for things that orbit the planet or shoot through the sky. For birds that swoop and feast in midair. For the feeling of floating, as though the next current could change things.
Those feelings are self-indulgent and not the least bit practical. I know it. They’re a splurge, and I know that, too. But they cost nothing, and there’s no show-off to them at all. If I didn’t write this down just now, it would never come up in a conversation between us, these prizes I take for myself. (We all have things like that, small joys that seem too much, our naked hunger for beauty too embarrassing when said out loud.) But there’s enough for everyone when we keep it simple. When all it takes is to step outside and to let the sky take over.
Maybe all I need is a tether. A long bright shiny thread that holds me to my place and lets me wander as far as I need to, with the sound of my children’s laughter as my compass. I’ll plant the stake and tie myself to it, with lots of slack. Our roots will sink deep.
When I need to feel light, I will step outside. But I won’t go far, I think. I won’t need to.
Not when there are moments like last night. Not when I can find a way to float.