The weekend before the last, we went camping with Matt and Sarah.
A week later, the camping gear sits in the garage, still unsorted and unattended. I’m don’t report this out of guilt- merely amusement that we managed to find a way to avoid it for the second week in a row.
How to build a fire, per family recipe.
I’m the kind of person that relishes looking back. Yet, writing about an event in the recent past is harder for me than writing about events long-past. The salient memories are still crystallizing, the cream hasn’t had time to settle, leaving no outer layer to cull. And so the recent past is murkier than the distant past as my brain still decides what might be worth setting to memory.
Southern Gothic with corn.
I remember thinking, “Sarah is beautiful”- and wanting to tell her so. I remember sorting through the awkwardness of finding a way to tell her I also admired her courage without insinuating a context of grief. Because her courage is not born of grief- her courage is something that struck me from the start, the courage of a woman who dares to proble the complicated knots many of us prefer to leave untouched. Many of us, of course, then wonder why everything feels so tangled.
I remember, somehow, being reminded that the knots are always there. It takes courage to confront them, to ask if there need be a knot or a kink in the line.
Southern Gothic with corn and attempt at nurture.
I remember the abundance of goofiness and vegetables- the familiar goofiness indulged with friends who know the worst of you and choose, somehow, to overlook it whenever possible. Thanks to Matt and Sarah, the King and I had “What did the fox say?” stuck in our heads for most of the weekend. I remember wondering why the tiniest dog insists on being the loudest barker on the campground.
When I first glimpsed this photo, I remember promising myself to make a slideshow with the words from Wendell Berry’s “The Country of Marriage”. Something about Sarah’s ring caught my eye.
The memory replaces the performance of the action- the excuse for this substitution awaits our attention in the garage.
I remember Prophet’s very, very chapped lips- and the search for a buttery ointment to relieve it.
I remember the Eldest’s thrill to hear the steady drumming of a basketball on a court somewhere across the way. “Hey Mom, can I go play pick up?” he asked. I remember smiling, nodding, and telling the King we were witnessing the dawn of a new era.
I remember the girls sitting in the “kids corner” watercoloring various pebbles and rocks. Then leaving them to dry on the rotting log, lined up like psychedelic little soliders.
I remember the expression of utter joy on the Eldest’s face when he ran back to the campsite only to announce that his friends, Jack and Andrew, were playing basketball. “I miss them so much, mom- they’re ‘twilight friends'”.
I remember the first time he told me about “twilight friends”. “You know,” he said, scrunching his forehead, “twilight friends are the ones you remember from long times ago, the ones that are always there, in the twilight.” Because twilight is more of a state than a particular place. And twilight never goes away- not completely.
I remember the way the tents were set up on top of a small hill next to the site, where Gnome played imaginary games with Pinka, who fretted about collars and leads and the way freedom is never free.
I remember Linda dropping by for a visit- laughing like a little kid when she discovered we were listening to Pearl Jam. Of all things. I remember singing “Corduroy” aloud without a hint of the usual embarrassment.
I remember the marvelous dance steps of the Gnome.
Of all the ways for our Gnome to dance, it is the wacky steps she can never quite resist.
I remember deciding NOT to tell the Gnome to zip her fly. I figured she has plenty of time to be self-conscious in the future.
I remember the muffled excitement of preparing food together, how sentimental it always feels to watch two old friends tending a fire together.
I remember feeling grateful for Matt and Sarah, for people we can love and cherish without the expectation of unanimous agreement on every subject under the sun. Friends to whom you can pose large, unanswerable questions without needing an answer to know better.
I remember Sarah’s expression- a “hobo dinner”- to describe our food being cooked on the campfire. I remember the kids falling asleep with Pinka in the tent as the big kids sat, sipping, around the campfire. I remember lots of Tom Waits, the early years. I remember lots of stars, the midnight version. I remember a mysterious barge, the conspiracy theory variety. I remember falling asleep in the tent, surrounded by little bodies and little puffs of breath.
I remember waking up at 6 am to discover a small thunderstorm and the Eldest, soaking, thanks to the holes in the tent.
I remember flying in the air, coffee splattering across the pavement, and landing on the side of my left knee. I remember why. I remember laughing and thinking the injury would have been worthwhile if I had only managed to meet my goal of kicking the King in the bottom as he carried the trash to the dumpster.
Simone Weil finds hope in the unbearable distance between heaven and earth. She says that paying attention to someone is a form of prayer.
By this, I think she means that our heart’s sustained, intimate connection to another human life is, in itself, a form of worship, an honor or reverence for God’s creation. An act of faith. An extended supplication.
I remember my way into the present, and find the memories of that weekend leave a heart on the map. It’s a intimate geography, this one. The key is ours to keep.