Keep the Fire Burning

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This morning I walked along the beach just before dawn. The water was glassy; if I had a kayak with me, I could have gone a fair distance without a wave so much as lifting or pulling away. Gulls on the beach scattered in front and gathered behind and a solitary dolphin breached just about fifty feet off shore. We were alone together, the porpoise and me. Except for the occasional fighter yet ripping past it was perfectly peaceful, as was I.

I walked to Big Sam’s, a local side-street joint that’s been there forever, right on the inlet where fishing and tour boats already departed and will return in a few hours, and I sat absolutely alone looking out across the docks and had breakfast. It is such a safe routine, predictable in it’s pacing. I walk the beach a lot but don’t often add breakfast, so this last minute turn was a great start to the day. It only works for me though if I’m up before the sun. Sleeping late (after 6:30 or so) is a waste of the morning. By the time most people I know were getting up I was halfway through my egg and crab burrito.

Yesterday my son turned twenty-six and this morning I thought about when I was that age. Back then I woke to the sound of cows outside the old country house I lived in, and went for walks or hiked through a nearby state park. Back then I was happy—completely in the moment, feeling more myself than perhaps I had until then, maybe since, who knows, but I had also “paused” for a while. After living around the country, working jobs as diverse as managing a health club to smuggling blankets out of Mexico, I found my forward motion wasn’t, so I stopped and worked a few dead end jobs in hotel restaurants and city bars. I didn’t know then that “taking a break” and “forward motion” are not separate; they are, in fact, very much dependent upon each other. But for me, then, I stalled. The only two things I knew then were I was completely happy because of circumstance, and that I knew I didn’t want to throw out my anchor just yet.

It took the tough love of someone else back then to light a fire under my ass. And during this past eight months I once again “paused,” stepped to the side and let it all be after thirty years of trying to stay one step ahead of the flames. This time, however, that old me came back around and found some purpose in that pause, and I feel myself again. Now I see my son who I’m so proud of, picking up momentum, building a reputation as an artist, and reminding me daily of my dad for his instinctive kindness.

And this morning I walked the beach, stopped for breakfast, watched the gulls scatter and return, and then that dolphin moved past. Maybe it’s because I’ve been walking beaches since I’m a child that I found the metaphor so moving. Or it could be because with each dramatic change in my life I reach up a bit more and try to see what’s next, but I’ve only started to discover that the times I’ve breached the surface, just briefly, have been driven by love. I suspected decades ago my path was not going to be without left turns and even the occasional detour and u-turn, but that’s okay.

It turns out some of the dreams I had at twenty-six simply needed time, maturity, and experience to come to fruition. A little fire behind me didn’t hurt either. But it also turns out I’m the same person I was when I was my son’s age. Maybe moreso.

I wondered this morning half way through my burrito what these two times in my life have in common. Nature, of course, thinking about what’s next, starting a new path in my life. There are even a few cows still near my house. But there’s something else I can’t put my finger on, though I suppose it has something to do with being in the moment, appreciating the present, understanding that “thin, thin, the moment is thin, ever so narrow the now,” as James Taylor sings.

Or maybe I can feel the fire burning, keeping me from sitting still for too long.

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