This last year has prompted (or enhanced) many shifts within me. For whatever reasons I’m more sensitive and aware of the transient nature of life; of friends and family, if my lack of control, and very specifically of loved ones becoming ill or dying. It’s a destiny we all face at some point, and the actuarial tables keep narrowing the odds on our glory days. Somewhat with this in mind, among other subtle changes in my approach to life, I decided in December I would try to better connect to people who live in my sphere but somehow had just never really gotten to know.
We all are “busy” to use that almost meaningless American word. Actually I think of it as a polite mask of a word. We like burying ourselves within the workplace, or taking on endless “responsibilities” or even endlessly participating in “entertaining” activities —each of which I myself have done at times— all these can be used to avoid facing our own lack of a defining sense of purpose. I realize that in certain periods of life we actually may have to honor others or do things that are not simply joyful and may in fact be very challenging but necessary. But I also know from personal experience that we can hide within activities or “busy-ness” or obligations and so (consciously or not) deny any genuine true introspection, juicy life-savoring connecting with others (and self), or time just being, and so too, avoid any consequential changes listening to our soul rather than our fears may provoke.
I am trying to move out of the grips of such convenient denial. It seems to me since we are all sharing some of the same turf in our little patches of the world for only a few brief moments of life, it’s worth investing some energy into our relationships with those whose paths we cross. None of us has endless time to do so, but we CAN connect at least a little, or we can choose to avoid it. I’ve learned I can find small bits of time if I just make a small effort. For me it seems important to at least be open to engaging with those near. In some cases there are people I’ve waved at for 15 years and yet barely or (embarrassingly) never have spoken to. So engaging even a little has resulted in expanding both my sense of community, as well as compassion (because when you engage with others you quickly learn we all got troubles), and also some common joys and interests, and really nice friendships. Friendships that otherwise might never have blossomed. A small initiative out of one’s comfort zone can offer rich rewards.
I believe this nurturing of relationships may also be done with non-human life—whether it’s cultivating a dialogue with our gardens, pets, or less domesticated earthly life, like the woods, the mountains, the waterways, or even “listening” more fully to the rain and clouds. Among the relationships I’m happy to have nurtured is one with my friend Erika, a new neighbor living two blocks down. I happened to paint her home as a contractor when she and her daughter moved in two years ago. Like most, our lives are complicated both by our design and by circumstance. Yet the small bits of time she and I’ve been able to carve out to share together have revealed we both very much enjoy the rapport. Among other things she loves being out in the non-human-built world, to paraphrase author Bill Plotkin, whose book “Wild Mind” we’re both currently reading.
It’s long been my feeling that most of the experiences that bring me joy are even more wonderful when I share them with others. Clearly for me this is so even when done via the abstracted vehicle of FB. Recently I’ve been very happy to share the serene experience of some inner tube floats on the river with a few friends. Erika and I talked about it a few weeks ago but we weren’t able to mesh available times before I was out of country, and then she was to be headed out of country when I returned. So it was looking like a warm weather float might not happen. Prior to my return Sunday, seeing the forecast I sent her a note that we ought to schedule doing one together soon anyway. Turns out her intuition had her cancel her planned retreat this week, so she suddenly had some room and was available to go. We settled on a pre-workday float. This requires just a bit more motivation: waking in the dark and walking to the river before coffee has really kicked in, and when the air temps are not yet hot and the water temperature is bit cool, but we did just that. A nice bonus was her partner Spencer, whom I’d never met, was available and willing and so came along as well.
Despite my excited chattiness, they graciously listened deeply and we had a some nice heart to heart exchanges about relationships; life changes; time spent filling the voids of American life with all manner of distractions rather than “being”; of synchronicity; of our lack of appreciation for how connected all life is; of our cultural dismissal of non-intellectual knowing; and trying to navigate all the above with open-hearted integrity. In addition to the warm conversation, we also, in the coolish morn and tepid River water directly enjoyed feeling the warming sunshine on our skin. We saw it sparkling like so many tiny jewels as it first touched the water, and watched the raw beams passing through the trees as the tiniest hint of dewy mist rose. We heard an occasional fish splash (Spencer may have had a nibble on a finger!), and watched as the birds began their river’s edge dawn rituals.
At one point, while the three of us (each floating atop an inner tube) were gently conversing, we drifted under a limb about 6 feet overhead. I glanced and was pleasantly surprised to see a small heron, likely one of a pair I’ve seen passed on almost every float, perched atop the branch. It held fast even as we began to pass under, as if to say “just wanted to get a real good look at who’s with you today!” Only when we were directly under did it take flight. A bit further down river, as we silently drifted along, we watched a wonderfully sleek, crow-sized green heron with beautiful markings stalking breakfast at the river’s edge. It crept among the rocks along the bank, very slowly and deliberately raising each toe and attached leg, delicately replanting them while moving forward, slinking lower and lower (I assume to minimize its shadow or reflection). In short order its stealth paid off, and that intensely pointed beak had pegged and gobbled up what I can only guess were a few hapless yet tasty minnow morsels.
We had a serene, hour + on the water. After my new floating companions expertly rolled free-style over a small section of rapids near a pull out, we gathered to assess continuing further. Just then Spencer noticed something near the closest bank—what appeared to be a long-stemmed white rose! I was sure it had to be plastic, yet when he reached it, he assured me it was not! The flower was fully intact and, being the chivalrous gent he is, he immediately offered it to his beaux. Lady Erika paddled his way and graciously accepted it. I happened to glance about and suddenly found two more—and only two—of these utterly out of place, yet absolutely SO in place, amazing little treasures. It was as if, beyond the already beautiful shared float, we were being gifted by the river for engaging with each other and with it, the herons, (and everything else so obviously interconnected). In a quietly dramatic and gently emphatic, lovely symbolic way, we too were welcomed. We all agreed it was a perfect ending to the magical beginning of a new day.