in all your ways, acknowledge me
Evening at the beach, and I’m swaying in the porch swing, pushing my toes against the deck planks. It’s too dark to see the ocean from where I sit, but I can just make out the faint, ever-changing lines of white caps, like fine, thin sketch marks adding dimension to shades of black and blue-gray. The salt air flies through my wet hair, drying into it the bend of waves, the curvy lines the ocean makes along the shore. Fresh from the shower and already I want to fling myself back in the sand.
Just as I entertain the idea, imagining my shoes tossed at the base of the stairs, my toes digging lines into the beach, a friend opens the door. She’s the kind of friend who always seems to know how to push past the edges of life, how to taste and savor it, even if she dirties her hands in the process.
“Hey, wanna go see the moonlight reflecting on ocean?” She’s been walking through the house, inviting everyone to go, and one other of our friends has agreed. It’s one of the things that makes us all so close, allowing each other the right to choose differently.
So, in moments, we pull on jackets, slide our feet into flipflops and hit the stairs, three friends giddy over another sweet taste of freedom. My shoes still feel soggy from the hose-dousing I gave them on my way in for supper, and I know that when we get back, I’ll be salt-glazed and not nearly as clean as I am now. But I don’t really care. I wonder why I care so much when I’m at home and life has thicker lines, why sometimes we don’t just push past the edges to taste and savor life, even if we dirty our hands a little in the process. I realize that’s a joy I need to offer my children, the chance to glimpse what can only ever be the blurriest view of eternity. Even a dim, impressionistic smudge of limitlessness soothes the soul, reaching as it does toward our true nature.
The wind whips across my cheeks and kisses the back of my neck, carrying our voices with it as we walk the short empty street between us and the long, faded walkway that will take us to the shore. The beach is dark except for a few bobbing lights, flashlights hanging limply from the fingers of other stargazers and children out with their parents, looking for skittering crabs.
Now that I’m close, I can more clearly see the froth on the crests of waves rolling and crashing into the sand, though the sea itself seems only a mesmirizing extension of the night sky, murky, shifting, elegant. I stand still on the beach, lifting my eyes to the sky. It’s amazing how much easier it is to see the stars in the darkness, when all the artificial light drifts away and nothing remains to distract me.
One of my friends spreads a blanket on the sand, and we sit, then lay–three wild friends in a row, oblivious to ghostly skittering, until the beautiful sky stretches as far as we can see, a sumptuous velvet canopy, studded with constellations. If feels as though there’s no past or future, only right now, only the three of us beneath the starry sky.
I lift a finger, pointing aimlessly above me. “Is that…”
“Yea, that’s the Big Dipper,” one of my friends says.
“But, what is that really bright star, that one right there,” our friend says, lifting her own finger into the air to gesture.
“Is that the Little Dipper?” I say, trying to find the baby scoop somewhere close to its bigger sister. I’m almost sure I see it, but it’s fainter than the other, and I’m uncertain.
“I think the North Star on the end of one points to the other,” my friend says.
And so we scan the stunning sky, like wanderers trying to identify mysterious foliage in a garden, reaching carefully, as though to touch the untouchable.
Until suddenly I remember hearing about an app that will help you identify the stars if you just lift your phone to the sky. In a matter of moments, I install it and fall back against the blanket. We were right about the Big Dipper. And that bright star, the one that looks faintly warm, almost orange, turns out to be Mars. We each sigh audibly, softly crooning “oh’s” as we find Saturn, Polaris, Virgo. When I drop my hand down, stretching my arm behind my head, we discover that the International Space Station hovers just below the horizon, completely unseen to us. I don’t know how long we go on like that, but one of my friends installs the app as well and we share our phones with the other, passing them across the blanket so that she can see. We lift the phones to label the stars by location, and then pull them away again to see them just as they appear to our limited eyes, without clear lines connecting, some bright and others faint.
It occurs to me that when it comes to identifying stars, we have no trouble admitting that we don’t really know what we’re looking upon, that our naked eyes just aren’t powerful enough to find all the points in the constellations. We feel no inadequacy in simply owning that our vague understanding of astronomy just doesn’t quite qualify us for more than the smallest speculations, and the flimsiness of even these remarks is something we readily admit. The unreliability bound up in leaning on our own understanding really isn’t even up for debate. And recognizing that a tool exists not only for interpreting the beauty we see but also for seeing beyond the limitless night, we urgently lift it in front of our faces to inform our view, to really see. I can’t help but wonder, laying there breathlessly soaking up starlight and seabreezes, why we trust our eyes to see rightly in the broad daylight, looking at each other, looking at life; why we find it so difficult to admit we just don’t know, to reach urgently for the wisdom that can help us interpret not only the beauty we gather, but the dark, expansive difficulty that threatens to swallow us.