The late afternoon sun made my shadow long and narrow. It stretched out in front of me like a plumb line. I had brought with me no book, no iPod, nothing to mute the sound of my shoes crunching like cereal on the dirt that just the day before had been mud.
A few yards ahead, startled by my approach, a covey of quail flushed from its hiding place in the broom sedge. The flutter of 20 wings sounded like pages of a book — thick and well-worn — falling from beneath thumb’s stroke. They rose and scattered, some of them barely clearing the vegetation. One of them flew head-height across the road in front of me, its soft brown body a smudge against the sky.
They are such vulnerable creatures. Shy and elusive, they generally depend upon their camouflage to protect them, crouching and freezing when threatened, and they fly only when danger is close. And, yet, they like to live on the edges of things. Edges of fields, edges of forests.
Edges are perilous places.
There is a photo in the windowsill of my office. A sunset over Goulds Inlet, one of my favorite spots on my favorite island. My boss took the photo and gave it to me, aware of my affinity for sunsets and St. Simons.
This morning he came to the door to ask a question, make a comment, alert me to something, I don’t remember what exactly. “Nice photo,” he quipped, pointing to the one in the windowsill. And from there our conversation slipped and slid from one place to another until we were talking about erosion and accretion, the falling away and the building back.
“Edges are fragile places,” I said.
I visited some friends this weekend, friends who enfold me, warm me, feed me. Friends who care not one whit what irritations I bring with me, what impatience I pack in my suitcase, what impertinence and frustration and general human-being-ness I drag through the front door. They care only that I am there and I care only that they have welcomed me.
We have loved and laughed and lived not just from the sweet center of existence, the place where the heart beats strong and steady and the sun shines long and hard and the future cannot possibly be anything but wondrous, but also from the edges. The perilous edges. The fragile edges.
Places where hearts and bodies and wills were pushed to their limits. Places where camouflage was not enough to forestall danger, where erosion ate away at foundations. Places where the dirt crunching beneath our feet was broken dreams.
And this is what I have learned: I would rather live on the edge — the perilous, fragile edge. Because it is how we live, what we do on the edge that determines whether we are men and women of courage or cowardice, faith or fear. It is how we face the attacks — with shattered shields or no shields at all — that measures the depths of our dreams. And it is with whom we face them — those who know the edge rather than those who huddle in the center — that make the battle, regardless of its outcome, worthwhile.