Last week, I went to my first in-person yoga class in fifteen months. It was on the beach near the small town where I work, and when I arrived, the only people in the parking lot on the bluff were a handful of weary tourists flummoxed by the electronic pay station. But after a magically clumsy hour in the sand and fog and wind, I climbed back up to where I’d parked, and found myself in the midst of crowd of surfers and smokers and skaters and families andI friends and dogs and horses, all of whom were intermingling in an atmosphere of casual delight. It was sort of like a funky Brigadoon, where instead of a Scottish village emerging from the mist, a motley crew of Northern Californians and their favorite charges had materialized in the foggy sunset. As I walked up the path, a very smiley, slightly manic toddler grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. To be honest, I didn’t really want her to.
I had gone to that class hoping to find a way to return to the practice I’d enjoyed so much before, but being in that wonderful maelstrom for even just a few moments reminded me of what I had truly been missing. It wasn’t what was lost, but rather the sense of what can be – the promise of renewal.
I know it’s hard to be anywhere these days without thinking about where we’ve been, how long it’s been since we’ve done such and such, or seen so and so. We can’t help but ache to return to where we’ve been, to try to take back the reins and find a path back to normalcy. For a long time during this pandemic, normalcy was all I expected, and then all I wanted. But now that I’m coming out of my mental and physical stagnation, I’m realizing that the normal ship sailed a looooonng time ago. Even when we reenter the most familiar of spaces, they will have changed.
Next week, if all goes well and I survive my first honest-to-goodness camping trip this weekend, I’ll have my forty-seventh birthday. You’d think I’d be contentedly sliding into a jaded middle age, happy to linger in my sophomoric wisdom, but the truth is, I’m just as addicted to wonder and renewal as ever. I think this is why writing never grows old, why it’s always just a little terrifying, a little electrifying, terrifically humbling. It would be easy to assume that the more we’ve written, the closer we come to knowing what to say and when, but I think that the real pull of writing is its ceaseless ability to surprise and refresh me. Sure, we can stagnate and maybe even rest in our laurels at any time, but where’s the fun in that? If we have another year, another month, another moment, isn’t it so much more life-affirming to continue opening into wonder? To forge a thirty-second soul-deep connection to a small, wild-haired changeling you just happen to pass in the parking lot? Maybe even to remember how you, too, once wanted a horse, and to drop directly back into that daydream, as if time is irrelevant, because the heart knows its song when it hears it.
In some ways, it’s just as scary now as it was fifteen months ago. In the wake of a pandemic, fear, grief, and uncertainty can rage like wildfires. Healing is a challenge in its own right. But in all honesty, complacency is far more contagious, and far more dangerous. Complacency is what allows us to become acclimated to injustice, to avoid stirring from our comfortable nests to see how our fellow citizens are faring, to grow attached to what is. As I move forward, I hope to keep this in mind, to stop searching for what I’ve imagined has been lost during this seemingly interminable holding pattern, and to instead expect to be surprised. To seek renewal, rather than recollection. To grow and live and be vulnerable, even if – and especially if – that means I can be sure of almost nothing.
Art: Katsushika Hokusai, “Mount Fuji with Cherry Blossoms”