My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent


She rises and stands looking out at the waves, overcome with the beauty. Her mind feels raw and receptive. She experiences a wide-open thankfulness, an unmediated wonder at the world. p 338

When did we stop doing things? Why do we say we can’t draw or sing or dance?


I see kids every day who pretend to be what their heart’s desire most: princess, Wonder Woman, a cool 18 year old, a dog, a unicorn, Spiderman or a tree. At my library they sing, they play, they imagine the impossible and proceed as if it were normal.


But when do we stop and why? Did someone, an adult, insist that we grow up? Did we just decide to put aside childish whims in order to act cool? Or do we just adapt and assimilate to what’s expected of us? Is it dictated when we reach a certain age or do we just slowly make these choices over time and the abilities atrophy?


This past weekend was a roller coaster ride. A Friday night graduation, a Saturday morning memorial service for friends’ 30 year old son and a Saturday night graduation party. My family experienced emotional whiplash to an unhealthy degree. I spent both days ricocheting back and forth between extreme feelings, which seem to be following in the path of the weather. Here in Vermont it’s been one day cold and 60, the next day hot and 90. Where is the middle ground?


On Tuesday I took dear a out for a belated birthday present— a lazy, do nothing afternoon at the lake. The woman at the ticket booth apologized for the loudness of the fifth-graders who were there on a class trip. But honestly, we were so pleased to be there listening to the laughter and realizing we didn’t need to be responsible for their welfare, that it didn’t matter how many kids were there with us.


It was their carefree, gleeful shrieking -–and honestly the extremely hot temps may have been a factor— that gave me cause to get up off the blanket and step into the water. I haven’t been swimming in over ten years, but suddenly I was overcome with an intense need to lay on the floating dock and soak in the sun. The water was cold, more frigid than I could have imagined, but I slowly walked in and then decided to let go and start to swim. Glasses on, head raised. And about half way there the panic set in. I realized that I had to keep swimming or quite possibly drown. This wasn’t a pool, my feet couldn’t touch the bottom and I couldn’t easily swim to the side. I turned round and did a creative backstroke until I was almost at the dock. Climbing the ladder might have been Fuji or Monadnock. I collapsed in a heap, surprised at my stupidity. Surprised (and maybe secretly thrilled) that I wasn’t the same woman who left the shore. This forty-something woman had much, much more admiration for Diana Nyad for sure.


I lay there for awhile marveling at the paint peeling on the dock, realizing that only certain people ever get to see it for themselves, only those willing to leave the safety of the shore. Somehow that became a dichotomous Before/After moment. And I stayed there for a bit, buoyed by the water and the sense of wonder and possibility. It had been too long since I leapt from the safety net. I didn’t know I still was capable of it.


But thinking about it now, sitting at my computer, it seems ordinary and everyday. It’s so easy, a child can do it, effortlessly. I’m still wearing my bathing suit under my clothes as I type this, because I’m not ready to severe my tenuous connection. If something is commonplace and mundane does it not still have the ability to be somebody’s miracle?


Now my head is filled with pairings of simultaneous contradictions. Bitter and sweet, joy and sorrow, pain and wonder. There are those moments when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s opening up our hands to the loss of a child as they leave home or the ache from empty arms because a child’s life has suddenly ended. It’s loosening your tight grip on the world, knowing you might drown, but finding instead the ability to swim past your fears. To move through the water with an open-eyed sense of awe.

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