I woke early Sunday morning, wearied by the ludicrous night visions only a bride-to-be must endure. A shower rinsed off the outermost layer of fretfulness. Mom was still sleeping, so I took myself to the beach, aching for the cleansing only salt water can afford.
A year ago I was at Rowe Conference Center, soaking up a writing retreat put on by The Sun magazine. I signed on before I’d even read the magazine, while my free trial issue was still in transit. Ordering the sample put me on an e-mail list, and the first e-mail I received was about the retreat. I had a tax refund and a hankering to connect with other writers. I was in.
Last Wednesday I gathered up the year’s harvest of Suns, rereading that first issue with nostalgia few could understand. This is the essay that made me fall in love with Alison Luterman before I met her.
At the retreat Alison borrowed my hoodie. She signed one of her books for me: For Hannah, Who tunes up the little ones so their souls sing! Alison’s luminous presence confirmed to me that writing isn’t likely to make me rich, but it will make me fully alive. I’m still planning to write her a letter to tell her how I used one of her poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day at school.
I owe Krista Bremer another letter, too. Krista felt like the sister I never knew existed. We didn’t have to talk for hours for me to feel this way. I only had to read her essays and listen to her voice, fluid and powerful as the ocean. I wrote to her in the fall, and she sent me a paper butterfly with her reply.
Sometimes a single weekend glows within you like a torch, lighting the dark months ahead. When your hips won’t stop sliding out of place you look at the butterfly on your desk and rather than collapsing into a sniveling heap, you write. (Not that you never collapse into a sniveling heap. You do, more times than you can count.) When you don’t get into either of the MFA programs you applied to, you remember what you told Sy Safransky as rain rinsed the windows of Rowe’s dining hall: I’ll write whether or not I get an MFA. You had only just met Sy, but you could tell he believed in you. That belief lodged itself in your spirit like a sacred splinter.
Perhaps eventually I’ll make the pilgrimage to Rowe every year. This weekend I faced the world’s least pitiable schedule conflict: my bridal shower. My mom and David’s mom traveled from Philadelphia and Houston. The Worsfold clan cooked and cleaned and stirred sangria. A host of beloved women stitched flowers and sang songs to celebrate.
No one could have dreamed such splendor, so you’ll forgive me if I walked to the beach several hours before my shower still yearning for The Sun. Planning a wedding and finishing the school year have afforded little time for writing, and I miss it something fierce.
An old, familiar voice scolded from the cellar of my mind: Stop thinking about that. Can’t you just feel grateful?
Thank God for the difficulties of the past year. Without them, I doubt I would have laughed so heartily at that voice. Come up out of the cellar, I called to her. Of course I feel grateful. But that’s not all.
All the way to the beach I encountered the coexistence I feel: beauty blossoming and beauty clenched in bud.
Petals exulting skyward and petals littering the pavement.
If there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s how to hold gladness and longing in the same hand. If you hold them long enough, they begin to feel like two sides of the same stone, smooth against your skin.
You turn back and look over the rocks. They hurt sometimes, but you’re glad you kept your shoes off.
You’re glad for the smooth sand beneath your feet today.
You’re glad for the storms that made this sunshine feel like the miracle it is.
And you’re glad for all that is still within you, waiting to burst forth.
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