Monday, June 14, 2010
It's too late for this kind of thing, really.
About half my life ago, my friends and I would spend our weekends at a cabin on the shore of Lake Cavanaugh. It was almost always cold, and more often than not it would rain, but we always went. There was a sauna, hand-built out of old cedar shakes, with two tall windows that looked down on the lake and a pot-bellied stove with a train wheel on top, and in the wheel, rocks cracking under a dipper full of water. We took off all our clothes, boys and girls, laid on our backs on the benches and told stories. It was dark inside. The whiteness of our skin took in and reflected back what little light came off the evening lake. Glowing pale bodies with lost edges in the steam. Sometimes we sang songs, listless fainting songs that trailed off mid-chorus because of the heat. Mostly, we bared ourselves in front of each other and just lay still, feeling the comfortable proximity of one another's nakedness.
One time I remember so well -- after the sauna, we dared each other -- I dare you, jump in the lake. It was black night, very cold, clouds moving fast over shifting stars. We walked down to the shore. The mud sloped into the water. I went in thigh-deep, and stood hugging myself against the cold. J__ kept going past me, laughing as the chill bit into him. And just before he dove in, he turned back to look at me. I was shivering, I was covered in goosebumps, but I knew that what he saw was beautiful: The curves of my form, the paleness, the night sky over me and a forest of blackness behind me. In that moment I was certain that he loved me. And maybe for that moment, he did.
When we came out of the water, wool blankets and sleeping bags by the fire to warm our bodies. Nylon-stringed guitar singing somewhere behind me. J__ stood across the fire from me. We saw each other, perfectly and wholly, in the red-orange light. We opened our blankets to let the fire's heat in.
There is something to say here. There is a point I'm trying to make; I just can't find the right words. All I have are pictures to play with. I can line up little images and hope you get the idea, but why can't I ever put my most important thoughts into simple, easy words?
There are these moments in life.... Life is so short, and most of it we forget. Most of it we never really see in the first place. And once we're gone, we're gone. Our brains, our minds, or memories.... Gone. All that exists is what we observe and remember now. All that is real is whatever we take the time to recognize, to meditate on, to accept, to describe.
I drove to Lake Cavanaugh alone one night. I'd had a bad fight with my mother. I just wanted to be with my friends, the people who saw me and understood me. The people who accepted me. It was spring. The rain was coming down hard. I was all tucked up inside myself, sad, so focused on being sad and so unable to do anything else. I came down a dip in the road. My headlights fell on hundreds and hundreds of moving dots. In the blur of the rain it took me several seconds to identify them -- frogs. Maybe a thousand frogs or more, black and slick, going from one side of the road to the other. The rain had set them moving. They traveled with such certainty across the road, directed by some secret so powerful and primal it overcame me, pulled me right out of myself. I stopped and watched them for a long, long time.
And then I realized I'd have to go through them. There were thousands of frogs; they'd keep coming all night. I couldn't wait for them. I edged my car forward as slowly as it would go. I figured they'd hop out of the way of my tires if I just gave them enough time. I didn't feel anything crunch under my tires so I figured I'd made it -- I'd passed through their magic hollow on this obtrusive, offensive human road without harming them. Our paths had crossed, the frogs had erased my pain, and I was grateful. My thanks to them was that I'd respected them enough to go slowly, and spare their lives. But a few days later I found a frog's dessicated body stuck to the bumper of my car, and I cried for hours. Seldom in my life have I felt as badly as that dead frog made me feel. I still ache and cry when I think of it.
All right, so that one wasn't so clear. Let me approach it from another angle.
These frogs will always be with me. Especially the one I killed. Until the moment I die, they'll be inside me. I really saw them. I really was there, in that moment, with them -- and I was there afterward, when I pulled the dead frog off my bumper and wept over its broken, bent little body.
If we're not fully engaged, if we are not awake to the moment and thinking and observing and really seeing, we miss so much and there is so much to miss. When you hiked alone among the rock fins, and found the spot where perhaps seconds before a kit fox had urinated -- and the two of you were the only living things under the fast-moving sky. When you climbed the table rock at Dry Falls, and J__ pulled you up the final stretch with his good hand. The man who sat across the table from you and talked in a voice that was all wet ocher and honey-in-a-jar. And his voice dipped down out of your hearing so you only caught a handful of his words, but it was okay, just fine, because you saw the tremor in his eye when he tried to stop himself, again and again, from looking at your mouth.
This is the only short and sweet life you have. But it's not enough to just know that. You have to really expose yourself to yourself. Expose yourself to others. When you find a person who sees you naked (this is me, the dark little moles against skin that burns but doesn't tan -- the white scars -- the lake, the frog on the bumper) be glad, be brave, be grateful.