Water from the Wave

Lately, Aviva and I have each pointed out books where the author designates something, often a period of time, by capitalizing each word in a phrase, e.g. The Year When Everything Changed, or When Life Fell Apart. (She loves Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, and I started reading Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam to her while we were both home sick.)

I’m sure there’s a name for this literary device, though I’m too lazy to look it up. And it occurs to me that every single person must at some point experience something that warrants this designation. Don’t you think?

Likewise, it could also be The Year Nothing Happened. Which reminds me of what the yoga instructor said when I attempted to do tree pose (cocky, I admit, thinking it’d be a snap) on a paddleboard in the seclusion of the mangroves: “Give it a try. The worst thing that could happen is nothing.” (Then I fell in.)

My father lent me a book on Friday, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. Not one hundred pages in and I am so swept away by this book, page after page of writing somehow as stark as it is lush. So clean. So insightful. So truthful in its searching, beautiful in its questions, and filled with love for its subjects. Whole passages I want to read out loud and send as voice memos to certain friends, about mothers and daughters, about the ocean, about blank space and silence. And so many moments I want to underline, bookmark, keep.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t remember anything I read, even when I’m as in love with a book as I am this one. But it doesn’t detract from the affair in the moment, not a bit.

She writes, “I am afraid of silence. Silence creates a pathway to peace through pain, the pain of a distracted and frantic mind before it becomes still.”

She quotes her new husband quoting The Little Prince: “Be aware of what can never be tamed.”

And I am reading epigraphs to a book I have not yet written.


It could be daylight savings time that got me up at 10:00pm from a sleep I’d barely settled into, or the slightly knotted feeling in my stomach after a day of eating real food following two days of flu.

But really, I think it was the 30,000 foot view coupled with Williams’ prose that got me out of bed just now. That, the nagging thought that I haven’t written a poem in months, and something I posted earlier on Facebook:

In the last twelve months, I got laid off, self-published a book, landed a new job, moved, sold my house, signed divorce papers, and got engaged. One breath, one moment, one day at a time meets 30,000-foot view. Whew.

It’s always an interesting phenomenon seeing what strikes a chord with people on Facebook. As Mani has pointed out, she could write something profound and two people could “like” it, whereas she’ll share an idea for little cupcake-shaped meatloaves with mashed potato frosting and start a thread with sixty comments. It’s a roiling collective consciousness out there, folks. Swim at your own risk!

So anyway, the status update from late this afternoon seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and I found myself curious as to why. Is it because so many of us have experienced one or more of these things, and it’s the whole common ground factor?

Even as I wrote it down, I asked myself if sharing such a reflection was itself a form of solipsism, which was not my intention. But because I knew that was not my intention, I went ahead and shared it–not fishing for congratulations or pity or a pat on the back, but truly as a “Whew!”

All those individual serving-size packets of Annie’s mac & cheese, all those unemployment forms and new employment forms, all those times I unzipped by boots at airport security, plunking my cell phone in a grey, plastic bin, all those times I peed and all those bedtimes that took forever, all those gulps of water and all that money on lattes, all those decisions and all those moods, all the times the light caught my eye or the weather delighted or deterred, so many comings and goings–I could of course go on ad nauseam, but even that phrase is unwelcome in my house tonight–all in a year, the teeny-tiny details during which, in the midst of which, many momentous life changes occurred.


During The Summer Life As I Knew It Ended, also known as 2010, there was plenty of talk of me jumping out of a plane. That is exactly what I knew had to happen, and I spent the better part of three months crouched there at the edge, sometimes retreating back into the craft of the Life We Had Built and other times dangling my legs over the edge, or standing in the open doorway screaming my head off, psyching myself up to Just Do It.

The 30,000-foot view was predictably exhilarating and unnerving beyond measure; I’d often wake up in the early mornings to my heart galloping as if I’d just run an eight-minute mile (which would be very fast for me). My whole life really did flash before my eyes, past, present, and the terror of an unknown future.

Then there is the knowing. The clarity that that kind of radical and sudden shift in perspective can bring.

And what follows is the jump. The free fall. Whether you land in a bed of feathers (Cassy in Burlington, that one goes out to you) or the cold, hard ground (lots of Taylor Swift around here), you survive, the plane you jumped out of now a remnant of memory.

Two summers ago, my friend Beth suggested I had enough material to “compost” for a long time. To digest. To incorporate. Re-reading that Facebook post tonight, I had a similar response–I could do “nothing” but mother my girls, do a good job at my job, love my woman, and do what I can to lead a conscientious, healthy life for the next year or five, and it will be enough.

As if it is ever an either/or.

For no matter what “milestones” may occur in the months and years to come, what finally occurs to me is that they are all so arbitrary, the things we mark as “major” events and “minor” ones in our lives. Yes, there are true lifecycle events–birth and death, namely–and changes either more societally recognized or externally significant. And then there are indeed the moments. One after another, as impossible to distinguish as water from the wave.

[This video made the round a few years ago, and still Blows Me Away.]

4 thoughts on “Water from the Wave

  1. Beth Patterson says:

    There’s so much here…but I wanted to say that ‘Expecting Adam’ from the first paragraph…is full of those moments…when Martha, and you know that life will never be the same. It’s a testament, as is When Women Were Birds to the power of acceptance.
    Thank you, dear Jena–



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