On my walk to the beach I snap pictures of other people’s yards.
Winter and spring coexist right now, and for all my talk of warmer weather, I’ll be sorry if I miss this. The momentous in-between.
The earth softens underfoot. New-minted green peeps out from the latest snow. My life coincides with this season. One chapter closes, and I am eager to turn the page to what’s next.
Above the ocean, I settle down with my Marie Howe book. The grass is only beginning to renew itself, but I’ll let it practice cradling a human head. My gloves are on while summer thrums through my veins.
I spy my first insects of the year: a fly in the grass, a few gnats buzzing overhead. A spider crawls across the page. An itsy bitsy spider, like the one I sing about at school with two-year-olds.
Eyes shut against the blinding sun, I listen to the industrious sparrows; they always remember to sing while they work. Remember isn’t the word for it. To be a sparrow is to sing. To be two years old is to sing, too.
Waves hum against the sand, and in the distance church bells ring, not the hour but a hymn. It must be the end of a Palm Sunday service. The doors open and the congregation files out into the sunlight. Lying in the grass, I’m yanked back ten years: to the woman I was when I was first a woman.
Oh, that woman scarcely missed a church service. If she lay in the grass, it wasn’t on a Sunday morning, and she’d have a Bible in her hand, not a book of poems. She’d pray through the names of the children she taught, brow creased in concentration.
She didn’t guess at the praying she’d learn later, when many things fell apart. She didn’t know about the poems she’d memorize on the beach, or the slow, solitary walks, or how she’d learn to behold her students with an awe that felt more like prayer than prayer itself.
A few days ago my friend Marika came over for tea, and spoke to me of bringing the divine feminine back into the church. “I’m up for that,” I told her, and meant it. I’ve never believed my truancy to be a permanent condition.
Tears spring into my eyes. I’m filled with a longing for the woman I used to be. I don’t want to change her or whisper wisdom in her ear. I just want twenty-two-year-old Hannah to make her way home from church and come sit beside me watching the waves. She’s working so hard to get everything right: pouring herself into her first teaching job, fearing nothing for her first marriage, serving her church unflinchingly, as though it were God himself. Virtue lies heavy upon her shoulders, but secretly she spends a lot of time wishing she had Jennifer Aniston’s abs.
I raise my head from the newborn grass and look at the ocean, and at my cheap sneakers. I know next to nothing about what lies ahead, but this frightens me less than it used to.
Forty-two-year-old Hannah sits at my other side. The furrows in her brow have grown deeper. She has children now, or maybe not. Her abs still look nothing like Jennifer Aniston’s. She knows that actually she never wanted anyone else’s abs but simply to feel her own beauty.
All three of us sit here for a while, reading Marie Howe, watching strangers on the beach, enjoying the momentous in-between.