Whether it's Robin Williams' performance in the Dead Poet's Society, or the added visualizations in a recent iPad ad - there is a Walt Whitman poem I have always loved (thank you Ms. Bornhop - now Setten - for so passionately introducing it to my 10th grade self):
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
- "O Me! O Life", Walt Whitman (1892)
I'm 42. But I swear that just a few years ago, I was in college running the trails that overlook Black's Beach, oblivious to the world class surf (and nudists) down below. A nanny on a scooter (yes, really), each morning gathering downhill speed on North Torrey Pines Road from Del Mar, hitting the straight away as it paralleled the Pacific before heading back uphill towards campus. Squinting and teary-eyed from the cold air and record-breaking speed, taking in crystal clear water, blue waves ... and - on auspicious days - pods of dolphins. Coming back from a full day in class and in the lab, awe-struck by bioluminescent bacteria putting on an iridescent light show performance with each crashing wave ... idyllic, really. And then all of a sudden, these college kids - my peers, right? - start calling me "Ma'am". I don't feel like a ma'am. The vain part of me bristles ... but it's the passage of time - not as it's happening, but the realization in retrospect - that smarts the most. Because there is SO much to do - really good stuff - and at some point a switch flips and the year that was moving interminably slow suddenly flies by. The switch flips, and that sense of urgency takes over - I want. I need. To do. To see. To be seen. To be heard. To be.
Last weekend we headed up the coast for a morning surf - I decided to sit it out and watch while my husband went out. It was a beautiful morning. I'd left the camera home and the phone in the car. So there was nothing to do but ... be. I wondered if I should go back for the phone - I could at least upload an Instagram image - and then let it go. A gentleman of about 80 or so stood beside me (he did not call me ma'am) looking out for his son and grandsons. He was visiting from Thousand Oaks (about 2 hours north, and inland) - "did you see that man standing up out there?!" - "yes, he's paddle boarding" - "and there's a girl!" - "yes, they're really good!" ... He told me about his 54 year old son who had just started surfing, his grandson who hadn't liked any other sport, but really took to surfing the first time he tried it, his church and its choir (and their director) ... he was so engaged, so interested. He couldn't believe that two middle-aged women ran up the steep stairs: "Wow! They're fit!". As another surfer descended the stairs, "He's old! He has gray hair!" - "yes, I bet over half the guys out there have gray hair." As we stood there and talked, I smiled. A lot. When his son and grandson finally came up those steep stairs, he introduced me: "Her husband is out there! She was going to surf, but didn't. She's just learning, too!" I laughed. A little embarrassed, but mostly awed by his infectious enthusiasm - his sense of presence, and his clear appreciation of and joy in that moment.
I frequently consider the notion of "legacy" - as a human, life-partner, friend, professional, and artist. In all of these ways, I find myself constantly wanting to be better than I am - to have done more than I have. I feel that sense of urgency - to produce, to experience, to learn, to absorb, to tell. At the same time there is that nostalgia - for where I've been, what I've seen, and what I have done. It's a challenge to remember that somewhere in between nostalgia and urgency is this moment - what is here and what is present ... and finding peace in the knowledge that we are exactly where we are meant to be: this space, this moment that results from the karmic soup of every moment that came before and every hope for what is to come. And in this moment there is tremendous gratitude, and a need to give its expression a clear voice.
When the camera is pressed up to my face, especially these mornings when the fall air is finally crisp and the early skies begin to glow above the water - when the dogs are running ahead leaving perfect sets of paw prints in the sand, I feel this. I am here. And, in this moment, this is my verse - my expression of gratitude for everything that was, is, and the hope for what is to come.