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the stillness of the room after a chapter of Ann Patchett

When we encounter beauty – when we open up and let it in – it can jumpstart our senses. I finish a chapter of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and place the book beside me, feeling its loveliness settle from my brain into my lower organs.

I take in the ordinary vistas of my apartment: the rumpled comforter, the drying rack, and the plastic basketball hoop over the closet door.

I observe the orchid tickling the dress I left out after last week’s engagement pictures. Some other version of myself might stand up right now and return the dress to its box beneath the bed, but this me is in no hurry. On other days I’ve fretted over my failure to coax new blossoms from the orchid, but today I’m satisfied with its unassuming foliage, chummy beside the pistachio silk.

I listen to the barely audible ticking of our new clock. The sound is a pat on the shoulder, a whispered compliment. The poor thing has hung on the wall for three weeks without me hearing it; now I feel I’ve opened the door on a happy secret.

I wish this feeling on every person I know. May you hear a certain song for the first time and even though you know you’ll spend the rest of your life cueing it up on your IPod may you not immediately open your laptop to download it. Instead I wish you the pleasure of sitting in its afterglow, taking stock of your renewed reality. There are so many things you’ve been ignoring: the pale new fingers of the Christmas cactus, the butter-yellow intricacies of melted candle wax, the soft curvature of your own forearm.

The days when I slipped into a novel to escape from reality are far behind me. As a child I’d imagine myself the heroine of every plotline; sometimes I’d read her dialogue aloud if my brothers weren’t near. Back then I thought the joy of growing up would be learning who I’d become, as though adulthood was a play and if I was talented enough I’d land a starring role. I didn’t dream that my life’s truest satisfaction would come in its pauses. Thank heaven no one ever tried to explain this to me, and if they did (surely they must have!), I didn’t bother listening. So many of life’s best surprises cannot be taught, only lived.

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