Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.
~ Robert Bly
I sit down in the living room. The overhead light is turned off, and the string of holiday lights around the perimeter where the walls meet the ceiling crate a soft glow. The holidays are over and the new year has begun. As a Jew, I observe two new years — one where I return to my soul by looking back over the year past and prepare my name for a blank page in the Book of Life, and the other when I climbs into the ferris wheel bucket, going up and up to the tippy top, where January perches on top of the world, waiting to start the descent to summer and ascent back to winter. It’s a circle every time; some turns have felt wracked by threatening winds while others have been gentle.
Now, a week before I turn 42, I sit here looking out — at the living room, at the view from here. My children are with their father tonight — piano lessons and middle school homework, I imagine him snuggling with the younger of the two while the older one watches “Grey’s Anatomy” or listening to iTunes on headphones in her room.
I’ve been living all the way into each day, even as my wife and I work towards change and an eventual move to the ocean. Pacific Beach or thereabouts awaits us. We dream of grandchildren already. We don’t get sick of each other. Our contract is for love not to be work, but kindness, with plenty of space to just feel and be, not having to better ourselves. It’s a relief, frankly.
My body’s curves have become slightly softer in the past six months. Partly as a result of quitting smoking, no doubt, but there’s something else — a settling in, a relaxing. I’m finally learning how to take time off. How to rest without guilt. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, and am happier, too — the work is my own, and the combination of not punching a clock with getting to make up rules and content as I go on my own terms suits me well. For the first time ever, I do not feel I have to prove myself or explain my choices.
Little makes me more fulfilled than baking something my kids will love eating. I’m more aware than ever that they’re no longer little, which also means they need me on their terms and not mine. Time together is not a given, and as much as–more than–ever, I don’t want to miss it. I’ve spent so much time coming to terms with decisions I made as a much younger woman, and the more distance I gain on the past, the more clearly I’m able to see and understand what I denied in order to love the life I had–and why.
The first string of lights I bought this year to brighten up the living room in December burned out quickly. I exchanged them for new ones at Target, but it turned out the new string was twice as long as the first. For two weeks, a bundle of extra lights lay collecting dust on the floor; I kept meaning to get around to hammering in some nails around the doorway to the kitchen. Then one day last week, I walked into the living room to find the old glass water dispenser–the one I’d hauled home last summer from someone’s trash heap during a run– filled with light. My wife pointed out that it looked like something that would cost $94 from Anthropologie.
I asked my thirteen-year old if she’d thought of that. She had, indeed. It was lovely, just the kind of thing that could make a room feel beautiful instead of neglected.
And it reminds me tonight of the dark places between stars, a phrase that fills me with nighttime and spacious sky and desert dark and the beauty of not knowing. I sit here in the living room, the one where we are making into a home but that won’t be home forever, grateful for the quiet, the clicking of the keys, the time to listen to my own thoughts and see them unfurl across the page. Nothing will ever be the same, that much I know, as I reflect on something I read earlier in the evening, by a beautiful writer named Tracy Franz:
“So ichi-go ichi-e is not simply ‘pay attention to now.’ It is ‘pay attention to now and rest in the awareness of all that has come before, all of the causes and conditions that now culminate and come together in this present moment; notice that this moment, too, will pass.'”
This too will pass. This moment is the culmination of all of the moments before it. It rests on its very own now-ness, and as soon as I notice it, is already gone. Like breath on glass, get up close to the thing, and the thing is gone. But not always. Sometimes, I get close up to my child’s face after sleep has come, or my lover’s skin, and it is more real than ever, to be savored and memorized.
What comes tomorrow, I don’t know. Only that it will be its own time, and also a container for all that came before. What this means doesn’t matter, only that I will sleep in the dark spaces between, wake inside the hollow, and open my green eyes again, to something both known and new.