It was a perfect moment, one that I would have missed five minutes later. A lake in the mountains. An empty beach. The water still but for where it simmered with fish far from shore. The mountains reflected on the surface.
I drove up and parked just in time to see a blue heron stepping through the water near shore. His steps were slow and careful, and he seemed to take no notice of me. In fact, I was really the only thing that seemed out of place. No wonder the crows screamed at me. Almost overhead, turkey vultures spun through the air, circling above something that I couldn’t see, on top of a hill. By counting the shadows they cast against the face of the cliff, I could have counted the vultures without ever looking right at them.
I watched until the heron disappeared into the reeds at the edge of the water.
There was nothing to mar the moment, not another person in sight. A moment just for me, and every bit of peace I needed.
Over the weekend, I was writing some very old stories–things I would rather not think about–in the hopes that in stirring up the water I can describe what has been lying on the bottom all this time. It is said that “pain is good for art,” and that’s true. But first, pain is just pain. It’s necessary work, and will come to something when I’m done, but for a day or so, I felt like I had an emotional hangover, like I had imbibed too much on the past. I managed a hasty retreat, though, because I need my life to look better than it did from there. I’m lucky to have a choice about that, to look for the nearest exit.
Suffering chases down all of us, sooner or later–none of us makes it safely over the wall. Maybe I got more than my share back then, but now I feel pretty lucky that my sister and I are as healthy as we are, that even though we drew the short stick in one lottery, we won something substantial in the next one: the strength to pull it together and live decent lives. That’s not bad, as luck goes.
Sometimes what appears to be a catastrophe over time becomes a strong foundation from which to live a good life. It’s possible to live a good life even though it isn’t an easy life. -Rachel Naomi Remen
And then I looked at my notes for this post, where I had written: “All of our history is tamped down and firm, one day upon the last, the ground as solid as it gets.”
That sounds an awful lot like a foundation.
I wonder if I make it harder than it has to be, the way I excavate the past. The only thing I can say to that is that I know there are some valuable artifacts to be found, some things to bring to the surface, to polish and study. Or to bury again.
It’s hard, messy work.
But when I need a moment, when I need to see something beautiful, when I need to feel at peace, I know a place.
And I hear it’s not that crowded on Thursday mornings.