I say things on paper that I would not say otherwise. As a result of having done that a couple of weeks ago, my friend Gena called me and said, “I can give you the ocean.”
And she did. For 24 hours the ocean was mine. I walked on the beach and breathed the salt air and climbed over driftwood to get a better look at the horizon. I watched waves chop against docks and a solitary boat bounce through those waves. I felt my eyes water in the wind and my hair spring loose from attempts to tame it.
The summer, it turned out, was not completely lost, I decided, and gently, and gratefully, I made my way back to the dirt that is mine — ready, if not eager, to face, if not embrace, the fall.
I didn’t wait long.
Two or three days later I noticed that the angle of sunrise light had shifted, that sycamore leaves were littering the back yard, that the grass, which should have needed cutting by now, didn’t. And, of course, that walking outside after dark required a jacket. Not much of one, but something to cover the bare arms that had grown brown in the long days of summer.
My jacket generally hangs from the closet doorknob this time of year because taking the time to hang it up between trips to the mailbox and trash can and Owen’s food dish doesn’t make much sense and having it within view when I start out the door to walk makes it far less likely that I’ll get all the way to the road and realize I’ve forgotten it. It is a perfect jacket — lightweight, machine washable and my favorite color — except for one thing: its pockets. Or, more correctly, its pocket.
There is only one, a narrow slash pocket just wide enough for my cell phone, but not quite deep enough to keep it from falling out if I decide to jump a ditch or climb over a log. Nothing else will fit in the pocket. No rocks or acorns, of course, but also no feathers or leaves. For someone in whose house you are more likely to find bowls of pine cones and jars of seashells than wooden plaques calling out, “Happy Fall, Y’all,” this is problematic.
It is also fortuitous. Since I can’t carry the roadside treasures home with me, I have to stop walking long enough to stare. I have to slow my movement and my thoughts in order to absorb the smoothness of the acorn, the sharpness of the pine cone prickle, the pungent smell of the first yellow asters. I have to hold them. And then I have to put them down.
Same with summer. And people. And anything that captures our hearts. The only way to know them in such a way as to recognize treasure is to stop and stare. To look long and hard. To soak up every moment, every expression and then, without anger or envy or resentment, resist the urge to grab, to push whatever or whomever into a pocket that will never be big enough to hold it all.
I brought not a single seashell home with me from the beach. Not the slenderest sliver of driftwood nor a single sandpiper feather. It is the first time I’ve ever come home with empty pockets. And, yet, I carry with me the scent of the marsh and the crunch of the sand beneath my feet. I am learning, I think at long last, that I don’t have to keep things — or people — in order for them to be mine.