There are days when a group of objects are placed just so. There is a bowl of sunlit fruit casting shadows over a wilting flower on the dining room table he’d built with his hands, before the baby, when we were two. Bowls stacked, ready and able, and there is coffee. A white mug, oversized – obscenely large in my hand, like a mother’s heel on a toddler foot. Grandiose, elephantine. Vast.
The components of our morning – scene one – have altogether facilitated something in me. The stark sun, the mug, the angles forecasting a brief moment ahead. “What do ya know, Joe?,” he’ll say, and my cheeks will smile. I’ll respond as I always have, as I mostly do, because to pinpoint what I know – what I know to be true on this very day – would take far longer to excavate than the moments allowed.
And yet, my mind has already wandered. It has arrived at its dig site, dusting off memories and uncovering age-old beliefs about life and love and God and truth. He knows already, that I’ve arrived, and so he leaves my question unanswered, his silence offering permission to return to dusty knees, muddied trowels.
In truth, I know much. I know much of the person I want to be and much of the person I am, and much of the vast space that lies between the two when I’m looking at them on a linear level – here vs. there. Past vs. future. Right vs. wrong.
But when I dig deeper, everything muddies a bit. I strike rock and wince, unearthing contradiction after contradiction. Bones, dismantled and scattered, willing to be pieced into something purposeful and not puzzling.
This is life, the rockiness of it all. The uneven terrain where one wins and the other loses and nothing is as it seems. The if, next to the then. The but above the also.
To live is to contradict. On a singular, intrinsically scientific level, we know this to be true. Our bodies decay as our hearts beat life; skin shedding, blood pumping. Breathe in, breathe out. Left foot, then right. Up and down. To and through.
And yet, we are surprised, or agitated, when contradictions exist outside of our bodies. When our choices for the day lead not to a fork in the road, but to a forest in which trees must be climbed, walls must be scaled, foliage must be cleared. And in our quest for height – clarity – our choices bump into something below, and the effect is near.
The effect I’m writing of – the bump – is inevitable. To become a more present wife, one listening with both ears, I must tune out my child momentarily. Bump. To become a more present mother, one watching with both eyes, I must shield my needs momentarily. Bump. To become a more present leader, one serving with both hands, I haven’t any additional fingers to offer anyone else – momentarily. Bump, bump, bump.
To say yes to something good and worthy, we must say no to something good and worthy – equal, but different. The yes has a consequence, as does the no. And the bumps arrive, and stack, and create the collective effect that we call a life lived.
And so, we do the best we can with what we have: two eyes, two ears, two hands. We say yes, then no, then yes and no, and we swim in those contradictions for a bit. We allow them to muddy and brown and we cross our fingers, praying our bumps don’t bruise the ones we love.
They do, and they will, and they have.
“Can you pass the salt?”
My mind returns again, to the table. The coffee, the sun. The smell of fried bacon, burnt toast.
I do, pass the salt.
And I leave my thoughts at the dig site, and I butter my toast and pepper my eggs and let the clink of our forks become music.
A bump in the right direction.