Two months ago, I had an epiphany of sorts… a life-changing moment that happened in the midst of the ordinary. In the timeline of our lives, it isn’t often we can identify those moments at the exact time we breathe them, but here’s the story of my moment.
I sat on the sun-baked rock clothed in Capri pants and a t-shirt. I didn’t hike to the waterfall to jump in; I came to clear my mind and watch the crazy people leap into the murky unknown. And the pool of water had turned an icky shade of brown after the last monsoon storm. My mind never slowed as it ran through all the things that could go wrong. You could slip off Lloyd’s Log and bust your head open. I mean, the log was probably named for Lloyd after he did just that. Lloyd’s body could have still been there for all I knew. The old log could break and impale you as you plummet into the water. You could over or under-shoot the leap and break your legs on rocks jutting out that are obscured by the muddy brown pool. You could belly flop and drown after the wind is knocked from your lungs. The list went on.
I held my breath every time a child leaped from the carved log and exhaled each time their head bobbed back to the surface. In between, I’d shake my head and wonder why the parents didn’t protect their children. If I had a child, I would never let them do something so dangerous. I scanned the dozens of people around me and tried to match the offspring. I grew bored with the game when the string of unmatched jumpers grew too long for me to manage.
My attention turned to the children and the way they would just jump, arms spread wide, legs tucked, into the unknown. They had no fear. I wondered what it was like to not be restrained by the shackles of consequences. How did it feel to experience flight, even for just a few seconds before plunging into the water? I puzzled over how an anyone could jump without knowing for certain it was safe. But they did. Some hesitated, but eventually they leaped. I imagined their eyes squinted closed, but still, they jumped.
I looked down at my faded brown pants and the realization came to me: at least they came prepared to let go. In that moment, I saw my street clothes as an outward representation of my abundant supply of fears. A more alarming thought surfaced: I breathed, but I didn’t live.
On impulse, I unlaced my shoes and set them beside me. I peeled the damp socks from my pale, hardly-seen-sunshine feet. I stood and took a deep breath before walking toward the water. I gasped as the shock of cool water met my hot skin. Thigh-deep in the unknown, I considered turning back. But I’d gone this far. I continued until my feet no longer touched the bottom, then I swam toward Lloyd’s log. I shimmied up the submerged log and crawled up the crudely-carved stairs. With shaky legs, I stood on the last step. Things that could go wrong began to cloud my mind, but I jumped before they could paralyze me.
I didn’t hit my head on the log. The log didn’t crack and I didn’t break any bones. Lloyd’s corpse didn’t reach up and pull me under. I wasn’t afflicted with flesh-eating bacteria. The silt washed off my skin in a warm shower.
The thing is, my outward appearance is no different than it was before, but the moment I leaped from Lloyd’s Log with my arms stretched like a bird in flight, I lived.
This story is fiction but was inspired by some real thoughts and introspection that I’ve had. At church on Sunday, they talked of faith. Faith is often believing in something we cannot see or prove, and trusting that the outcome will be for our good. Fear is the exact opposite of faith. When there is fear, faith is a risk. Like the character in this story, I tend to see all the harmful/dangerous things that could come from any given situation. I recognize that I need to lean on my faith more.
Still, I did not leap into the nasty murky water from a carved log. There are certain things I couldn’t work past… like, where do all these beer-drinking people go to the bathroom? Oh, I knew….
Each month, I team up with Emilio Pasquale – he gives me a photo and I write a story inspired by it. What follows is the photo he chose- FOR MAY! (yes, I am that far behind), and then my story. His photography is impressive, so if you haven’t checked out his site, you really should :)
She leaned her bare elbows on the iron railing. The still-warm metal transferred a day’s worth of heat to her skin. The sun had set about an hour ago; she’d watched it sink below the horizon.
“She comes out here every night.”
Ingrid heard the whispers behind her, annoying like gnats swarming in dusk air.
“It’s like she thinks he’s coming back.”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head. They didn’t know what they spoke of, but she let them think what they wanted. Her momma had always told her that gossip was like a raging wildfire. Truth only fanned the flames until all that remained were embers glowing among the ashes of destroyed lives.
“It’s sad, really. At her age, to be tossed aside like that; I heard he found someone else.”
Ingrid turned to face the women behind her. “Sadness… joy… life brings some of both, doesn’t it?” Ingrid smiled as their eyes widened. The yellow glow of the lamplights did nothing to conceal their reddened cheeks. At least they had the decency to be embarrassed, even though it wasn’t because of what they said, but rather, that she’d confronted them. She gained some satisfaction in their discomfort as she watched them scurry like roaches seeking a dark corner.
Alone again, Ingrid returned her attention to the canal below. Specifically, the boat tethered to the railing. That boat wasn’t much to look at on the surface, but it held the answers to many of her life’s questions. She felt that if she spent enough time in the presence of the boat bearing her name, mysteries of life would be revealed to her.
As a young woman, she’d dreamed of a simple life spent on the countryside. She’d imagined growing her own produce, maybe even a small vineyard where she could practice the art of making wine. When she first met Gary, she thought he’d shared her dreams. She later realized he had his own dreams of owning a boat and living on the water.
Fifteen years ago, he bought a canal boat and named her Ingrid’s Sunset.
“You bought a boat? Without talking to me about it first?”
He’d held her hands in his. “But honey, she’s perfect, just like you.”
She shook her head. “The wood needs refinished, the leather seat is weather-beaten, and it’s taking on water. It’s a wonder the thing floats.”
Gary grinned. “Give me time and you’ll see the beauty too.”
His excitement had softened her toward the dilapidated vessel. For a few years, he did work on the boat in his spare time. The leather seat had been replaced and the leaks plugged where the floor boards remained dry. His attention drifted, though, to bigger, more elaborate boats. He wanted to travel the ocean and knew the canal boat would never get him there.
Ingrid stared down at Ingrid’s Sunset, the irony, bitter in her throat. Like the boat named after her, she could only carry him so far before he realized he needed more. Like the boat, she had been nurtured and cared for in the beginning. Without thought, she’d let go of her countryside dreams and adopted his dream as her own. She’d believed him when he told her she’d always be his co-captain.
She closed her eyes to the grit carried on the warm breeze. She despised this place. It served as a constant reminder that she was trapped in the nightmare of living in someone else’s dream. For nearly two years, she’d spent her evenings with Ingrid’s Sunset looking for answers, searching for direction. Abandoned, she lingered in the purgatory of realization… unable to let go of his dream, yet unable to pursue her own.
“It’s getting dark.”
Ingrid didn’t turn toward the voice behind her. “It’s been dark for some time.”
“I have to go home soon so I can make sure mother gets her nighttime meds.”
“Sarah, you can go. I can see myself in just fine.”
“You know I can’t do that,” she whispered.
Annoyance filled the wrinkles scrunched between Ingrid’s frowned eyebrows. She knew the rules and had no regard for them. However, Sarah was no longer bound by them. For six months after Ingrid’s breakdown, Sarah had been the caseworker assigned to monitor her re-acclimation, or whatever it was they called it. Basically, Sarah hovered to make sure Ingrid didn’t go off the deep end again. After six months, the state department of mental health services deemed Ingrid able to live on her own in society with medication. But Sarah continued to check on her every day.
“Why do you still come here?” Ingrid asked; gaze fixed on the tethered canal boat bobbing in the water below.
“The water calls to you.”
Ingrid glanced over her shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“You come out here every night, as if you are waiting for him to return. Even though you know he isn’t coming back, I fear you’ll answer the water’s call.”
Ingrid studied the deep creases that spanned the length Sarah’s forehead. Under the street lamps, the pale skin stretched across her cheekbones looked thinner, almost crinkly- like wadded tissue paper. She suspected painful stories settled in each of the furrows. “You think I’m going to drown myself?”
Sarah shrugged. “Maybe not intentionally, but once the water wraps itself around you, I’m certain it will suffocate you. I’ve been left before and I know the lure of needing to know why.”
Turning back to the canal, Ingrid looked into the murky water. Instead of her reflection, she could only make out mottled patches of reflected light. “I used to dream of the countryside.”
“You should go there.”
Several minutes were swallowed in silence before Ingrid broke her grip on the railing and took one step back. “You keep saying that. I’m thinking maybe you’re right; maybe it’s time to move on.” She turned to Sarah and noticed her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You want to come in for a snack before you go?”
Sarah shook her head and glanced at the watch strapped to her wrist. “I have some things I need to do yet tonight.”
She didn’t ask the time, but suspected it was later than she thought, as the canal walk had grown deserted. “Goodnight then.” Ingrid smiled. “Thank you for everything.” She felt Sarah watching her as she strode away from the canal. Once she passed through the archway to the gardens, she stepped aside and ducked behind a flowering Texas Ranger shrub. Peeking through the space between clustered branches, Ingrid watched as Sarah kneeled down at the railing. Even before the first rope slithered from between the rails and dropped into the canal, she knew what was happening. Ingrid could have stopped her, but didn’t. When the third and final rope disappeared, a lengthy exhale escaped.
Sarah stood and brushed her knees off before reaching into her pocket. Ingrid squinted but still couldn’t make out what she held in her hands. She gasped when she saw the first flames flicker. Again, she could have intervened, but watched in silence as Sarah tossed the flaming object over the railing.
“Goodbye, Gary.” The words slipped from between parched lips, like a breeze whistling between bare branches.
Ingrid stared, transfixed, as the first tendrils of smoke drifted skyward. In the periphery of her consciousness, she sensed that Sarah had disappeared into the darkness outside the lamp-lit walkway. A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips as the wisps grew into billows of black smoke. She knew this would be her last visit to the canal; the hold on her now broken.
Just as leaves bud in the spring, Ingrid felt the first stirring of life in her once-dormant soul.
When I started this story back in May, I stopped writing just before where Sarah was introduced. I finally realized my hesitation with the story – the ending I had in my mind was too obvious. That’s where Sarah came in. Instead of Ingrid coming to the conclusion of letting go and moving on herself, Sarah helped her along. A part of me thinks that Gary might actually have been stored in that canal boat, possibly under the seat (hmm… perhaps I’ve thought about this waaaaay too much!) but I left that open… Ingrid’s goodbye to Gary could have figurative or literal, depending on how you- the reader- choose to see it.
Thanks so much for reading!
Emilio – you want to try another photo for September? Hey, I could have a story by Christmas, haha! Seriously though – I’ve missed writing for your photos :)
If you’ve read my blog any time during 2015, you’ve probably gathered this hasn’t been the best year for me. I spent the entire first half of the year submerged in darkness and struggling against an undercurrent that pulled me under whenever I caught a glimpse of hope. Keeping with the water theme, I noticed the tide changed in July. I was able to hold on to my first glimpse of hope that tomorrow could overcome the gloom of today. There have been setbacks since then, but for the most part, I’ve kept hope in my sights.
Over the weekend, while visiting my parents, my mom found a nest in one of their cactus plants. They have several different variety of cacti, each with varying degrees of pain associated with them. (I am not a fan of cacti at all. See, just the weekend before, I helped my dad clear out one that had blown down during a monsoon storm. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I may have enjoyed using the ax a little too much :) ) Even with thick leather gloves, I managed to get cactus needles in my fingertips. And I know I’m getting old(er) because, although I could feel them, I couldn’t see them at all. That’s another blog post entirely…
So, back to the bird’s nest.
When I saw the nest tucked into the seemingly inhospitable “branches” of a cactus, I couldn’t help but relate this to my life. See, my life this year has been like that cactus. The spiny cactus isn’t the most welcoming home for most species, yet the wren is able to live there- the conditions even providing protection from many predators. (Would you go near that???) My life hasn’t been conducive to fostering hope, but I’m finding that in the absence of ideal conditions, hope still exists.
As I ponder life, both of cactus wren and my own, I can’t help but marvel at the resiliency of it. With the light of hope, I see the beauty of life again. Even through all the stuff that could turn my heart cold, I feel the warmth of “good” moments. That is hope.
I hope you feel it, too.
Have a beautiful Monday!
P.S. I’m still so far behind on reading blogs. Thanks to everyone for your patience as I try to get caught up… I have posts from May that I still haven’t read! And I thought life was crazy before school started, haha… let the games begin (again.)
This poem came to me while cooking dinner this evening. I’ve limited my posting for several months now. I am generally a positive person, so this extended period of darkness has taken a toll on me. Recently though, I’ve started to see some rays of light cutting through the pitch-black. When not submerged in the overwhelming nothingness, I am able to have moments where I believe that what is now will not always be. That’s what this poem is: acknowledging how this darkness has bound me, and being able to recognize that hope is freeing. I’m not quite “me” yet, but am finally approaching a place where I can write honestly, and yet keep this an encouraging space.
I am woefully behind on reading blogs, but am catching up a little each day. Thank you so much to everyone who has continued to read my sporadic posts, prayed for me, and have sent ‘good thoughts’ my way. This darkness would be a lot darker without you :)
It’s almost Independence Day here in the United States, but I thought I’d look at freedom in a different way. Freedom isn’t just about rights that are awarded from sources outside of us; freedom is also what we allow ourselves to make of it.
For a while I’ve been imprisoned by my own thoughts and circumstances. My mind has settled on the impossibility of what life is and I’ve been unable to comprehend a time where things could be different. This has led me into some really dark days. I haven’t written on my blog for nearly a month, mostly because the majority of what I’ve written has been so dark and depressing, I simply cannot share it.
During this time, friends have tried to lift me up because I can’t stand on my own. I know this has been exhausting for them because it’s been tiring for me as well. Waking up each day has been a chore. I’ve been caught in an endless loop of not wanting to do anything, and then feeling down because I don’t find joy in anything.
I know; it’s all in my head.
A glimmer of hope came through in my writing recently, and I thought I would share. It’s the first hint in a long time that maybe I will be right again, someday. This poem was written about a friend who has put a lot of effort into trying to get me to see hope. I’ve not been able to look beyond what I could see for today and tomorrow. But sometimes (I’m told) hope waits over the horizon, just out of sight.
Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
A seedling sprouting
on the charred forest floor;
the sun rising
bathing desolation in golden light;
fresh rain soaking
into parched desert soil;
the smile spreading
across a tear-streaked face.
You are the today
that makes me want to see tomorrow;
you are a gift-
a reminder of God’s amazing way.
These sentiments also apply to everyone who has offered prayers and well-wishes over the last several months. A big, heart-felt thanks to all of you! There is still so much uncertainty in my life, and most days are emotionally and physically draining, but I’m starting to believe one thing IS a certainty: I will be okay. “Okay” might not turn out to be what I thought it would be… but that’s okay :) I am so far behind in reading blogs but I am finally to the point I think I can set aside a little time most days. I always enjoyed the blog community and I think perhaps taking the step to interact again will bring some normalcy, which I’ve been lacking.
I wish you all a beautiful weekend! If hope isn’t clearly visible, may a shift in mindset bring it out of the shadows.