When the time is right the words will find you

An older man stood in the shade under the canopy entrance of an apartment building. He was wearing a loosely fitted short-sleeve collar shirt draped over his pot belly, beige shorts below the knee, a matching beige drawstring bucket hat fastened on his head, and dark glasses. He looked like someone dressed to face the elements. The sunlight shone on his protruding belly with his first step. Before the entirety of him stepped out into the light, he reached forward and grabbed at the air with his hands like a blind man feeling in the dark. He seemed to be checking the intensity of the sunlight, the temperature, preparing himself to make that second step forward, and then the next, and the next. 

This scene unfolded in a quick instant while I was riding past on my bicycle one day, it has been replaying in my mind since. I remember turning my head back to savor it a little longer as I rode past. Each carefully calculated gesture, the sequence of events, the preparedness, the adventure of it all, the man stepping out into the sunlight, replays in slow motion in my mind and I've been wondering why. The reason is nothing is perfect. Nothing is Perfect. These black spray painted words are fading on the stone wall beside the overpass bridge I've been climbing. Perfection to me is not about symmetry or achieving a certain standard of beauty. It is merely feeling at peace, like all is right with the world. The last few months almost every time I pick up the phone, glance at the news, walk past another tree stump, witness resilient things cut down to the bone, I am reminded that it isn't. 

There have been moments when I felt time stood still and I thought, I will write about this feeling, but was preoccupied being in it that by the time I sat down no words came. Perhaps that is all the man who wanted to be ready to embrace the sun was after, to know he wasn't going to get sunburned, nothing painful would catch him by surprise, the sweetness of the linden trees would fill his lungs, he would be alright. 


I wish I could rewind to the beginning of May when everything was in bloom and summer was full of possibilities. We traveled that month and I was obsessively planning and fixating on small details, like selecting the best crossbody bag to wear on a weeklong getaway. After much sweating and fretting, I found myself perched on a windowsill inside an observational tower and a ray of sunlight touched my face. I closed my eyes and enjoyed its warmth, feeling all at once tired, sleepy, happy. My husband is always full of energy when we travel, wanting to venture out and explore immediately, while I seek out the softest spot to lie down. 

Lately there have been many days of relentless heat and observing the world around me and myself in it. I have not been reading or writing as much as I would like, although I still write every day. I have been reading, not every day. I have been pushing forward on my bike, anticipating the freeing speed of the incline, and looking out from windows. I was recently reading on the train, a lovely essay in Donald Hall's collection titled A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. He lived 23 years without his wife and made it to 89. I was charmed by the way the sunlight danced on the cream pages, flickering through the trees outside the window like a light switch flipped repeatedly on and off very fast. 

Today, a slender young man sat at the bench seat across the aisle. He placed a small cardboard box on the table that looks like it could have contained a ring. He was wearing a black face mask and a blue rubber glove on his left hand. He carefully pried open the box with his gloved hand, inside was a styrofoam lid and underneath it, he lifted a tiny test tube with an orange biohazard sticker taped around it. He examined it briefly, noticing I was watching, his eyes darted back and forth and he placed the sealed tube back in the box and tucked it in the outer compartment of his backpack. He removed the glove and scrunched it in his palm, swinging his backpack over his shoulder, and walked away. I kept looking at the empty seat backs, expecting him to return. 


In the beginning of this summer, I was preparing my first lesson plan for a class on keeping a journal. Teaching this class had been one of the most rewarding and soul-enriching experiences I've ever had. Before I figured out what I was doing, I read through one of my old journals for inspiration. Ten years ago, I had written: 

I want to write a story where nothing happens. No one will inflict pain. No one will get hurt or die. Nothing obvious will change. There will only be love, falling in love, living in love, the joy of life.

Now the sentiment reminds me of one of the last sessions when we had shared the extraordinary in seemingly ordinary things in our lives. One of the more quiet students didn't want to read from his journal, he shrugged his shoulders and said that nothing notable happened to him that week. But then someone described how they had witnessed an ant struggle, climbing up the wall, carrying an injured or dead ant on its back. Then I heard him turning back the pages and I saw them filled with writing. Is it really true? I asked, No, in fact, there was music and he talked about the pleasure of learning to play piano again. 


The truth is I have been wanting to write for a long time and while I still write, it is often in fragments. I write about the golden rain tree and how it looks most beautiful now, decorated with its bright green seed pods that remind me of paper lanterns. When I am drawn close to a branch and reach out to touch them, they sound just like hollowed paper forms. I write about the cat we've deemed The Patroller napping on the front step of his mansion. I write about the relief of the summer rain, the clusters of dried blue rose hibiscus flowers on the ground marking the nearing end of this season, the whirring air conditioners, the soothing sound of insects and tree frogs chirping and buzzing at night. 

I have been looking to feel something when there is no time to stop and feel. The journaling classes helped me regain some balance and my sense of self this summer. It was a safe place where I felt I could be myself, a place where it meant something. I remember telling a friend that I felt my heart opened, like there was suddenly more room in my chest and I was calm and receptive to all conversation. I always arrived early and stayed in the room a few minutes longer after everyone had left to revel in that feeling, because I knew each week my heart would shrivel in its little cage again.

I always say to people who want to write, to write about the uncomfortable. The writer Burghild Nina Holzer said the key to writing and life in general is giving away what is most precious, instead of holding on to it. At the end of the last class session, after the thank yous and goodbyes and wishing each other a good rest of the summer, I remained seated at the table in front of the whiteboard and looked out at the clean gray desks and empty chairs. Outside the window, the evening sky was already coming into view and I remembered how when I first started it was still daylight after classes. For the first time a bittersweet kind of happiness welled up inside me, there is so much more left to give but I gave all I could in the time I had. 


I've lost track of where I was going. That's how I generally write and how I live my life. I don't have a pre-set destination and that is what makes journaling and any kind of writing most pleasurable. There is nothing wrong with preparing for the worst, but don't let it become all-consuming. I hope you find a place within yourself to release what is most precious. Even if it takes time, even if you don't know where to start. Put down the unspeakable on paper and when the time is right the words will find you. 


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