When I am dead and my body donated to science, they will crack open the shell that has held the sweet kernel of all my thinking and find in there, I think, only a few well-worn phrases, twisted endlessly back on themselves and reinterpreted over and over.
One phrase will be: “We must forgive and bear no malice toward those who offend us . . . We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt.” Which I have written on a yellow sticky pad and now keep moving back and forth between my top drawer and my biking bag, re-reading it, re-applying it each time it comes under my hand. I don’t know why I move it back and forth. Maybe only to give myself the chance to read it over and over.
Or maybe not even phrases will they find in me when I am gone. Only the spare change of single words. I’ve been ill, but now am as well as I need to be. Today is the first day my bike has seen sunlight in months. I do not know the sources of all that drives me, but swinging my leg back behind me, up and over to mount into the saddle after stopping to look more closely at blooming osoberry — the whole body working together, the balance, the air, that silent glide — brought me nearly to tears. Gratitude maybe. Reprieve.
I have lived here long enough that many words for the things of this particular Northwest world rise at sight. Osoberry my mouth said before I knew what I was seeing. The earliest blooming native shrub. Indian plum. Oemlaria, which I mispronounce almost certainly, but happily. A private Oregonian form of yoga.
Another phrase the white coats will find in my cracked walnut shell: “When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of a life – how silent and unabmitious it is . . . ” which I wrote about before. When a commenter gave me another lasting phrase:
I call this neighborhood proprioception, this sense of deeply knowing the place where you live and bike (or run, or walk, or lay in the grass watching the clouds go by). It’s a connectedness to your surroundings, the places and sensations, the people, climate, geography, wildlife, architecture, changing of the seasons, the whole picture. It’s the feeling of knowing which plants or trees will have berries or fruit you can grab on the way home, what time of the year. You have to feel the fog on your face, and have some of the local gravel ground into your knees, to really know the place. You feel it, but you can’t share this private sense readily with others, much as you need to. John Romeo Alpha
It’s true: I do need to share this sense. This sense can’t be completely inexpressible. It shouldn’t be unusual to know the earliest native bloom. But I would have missed it if I hadn’t been on the bike today.
My ride today was a recovery.
A recovery of physical strength certainly. Also a sense of place. A renewed affection and connection for this town that I love again: before I had gotten to my first destination, seven people I didn’t know had waved and smiled, pausing at crosswalks to let me pass, scooting out of the lane to give me room. Does anyone smile at me when I drive the same route by car? I don’t know. When I car it, I don’t have time to see more than the fact that they are there — in my way. But biking gives me back the kindness of the people I live with here. And on top of all this, a re-immersion in the seasonal rhythm.
So many reasons for hope in this world!
And how silent and unambitious these hopes are. How patiently recurrent. How persistently unnoticed. How dependent on my showing up, being there, ready to contemplate them.