from Zadie Smith’s Find Your Beach

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The construction is odd. A faintly threatening mixture of imperative and possessive forms, the transformation of a noun into a state of mind.

This may be cheating. I know that. But the books I’m reading are not-yet-published and this article really struck a chord. I’ve read it three or four times now. I love it for its simple, mundane subject, the sheer construction of phrasing, its slow build from nothing into something. Like a child with a new toy, I want to take it apart and put it back together again just to see what makes it tick.

I love it most of all for its timeliness. This is the week to follow that directive, to discover my bliss in front of the waves crashing on the shore. I am here with my family for the last of our annual Columbus day trips to the Cape. We’ve been packing up the car and driving down this particular stretch of road for at least a dozen years. It feels like the end of an era.

Zadie’s article hit home with me. She writes about watching a woman holding a baby and looking back at her while holding her own baby. I felt like I was observing them both and somehow we became a strange off-kilter group of three. I want to triangulate our positions. To calculate the center, to locate the source of our focus, to find the hidden inspiration that fuels us.

I’ve been the observer in my own life this week:

While getting ready for work I watched the cap from my foundation take off and go pinging around the bathtub before finally coming to a rest. I tried hard not the see the life lesson there, but it made sense to let it come to a full stop and not chase after it.

On Saturday there was a family outside the bookstore. A dad stood on one side of the lawn, a mom knelt on the other, their two year old daughter—dressed in purple hoodie and the sweetest pants imaginable—ran back and forth laughing the whole time. Watching this little trio I realized that the girl truly believed that both parents would be there to catch her, to kiss her before she spun around and took off for the other side of the grass. It made me wonder how long you can keep your children safe that way. How long can they trust that you will be there to pick them up. When does the possibility enter as their heads that someday you wouldn’t be there for them.

Before I got to work that Saturday I took T to his quizbowl meet-up. While climbing the hill to the light, we watched a young woman at the street corner slip on the leaves. Fortunately she caught herself before she landed in the street, and I paused before we went too far—disaster averted. It was one of those moments where you watch yourself and perform the action at the same time.

I don’t know what made these particular moments stand out, what made them rise to the top. Will they stay with me now that I have captured them here in a golden amber of words? I’m curious to know why we remember some moments with a keen, surgical precision and others fade away. Being here at the beach, seeing the places we revisit time and again, stories have been told and retold of our past adventures. It seems like yesterday we were here with T and he was asking to put the TV on at an ungodly hour so he could find a cartoon to watch. Not that long ago that T found a best friend to dash into the waves with on Chatham beach. Again I am aware of time and the way its pace has quickened.

But time is elastic, taking on the guise of a trickster. Making us feel as if an eternity has passed and yet not. I have been the bleary-eyed new parent holding my child in the wee hours, I have been the one kneeling as my toddler ran towards me, arms outstretched. If the fates are with me, someday I will be the proud parent of a graduate. Then there will be time for more vacations, more writing, more photographs, before I become the old woman walking with her cane, holding hands with her beloved on the beach.

Today though, today is about stepping away from everyday life as it is and finding ourselves at the sea.

One thought on “from Zadie Smith’s Find Your Beach

  1. I loved that article (thank you!), but I love this post even more. I know I’m not exactly where you are, but my mind has often pitched forward just a couple of years to when I will, and every day I imagine the lasts we are passing through… but let’s also imagine the firsts and the joys to come, because there will be many.

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