Monday, September 29, 2008

Shove Me Out of the Shallow Water

Erica and I went to New York on a train Saturday night to see a comedy show in Brooklyn. It was great. Not just the show—the whole thing. It was pretty spur-of-the-moment and everything fell into place as if the universe really cared about us and wanted us to go see the show.

I love when we go to New York on the train without our daughter. It gives us a guaranteed 90 minutes alone together without the phone or a knock at the door or a child needing something from either one of us. (I feel the need to add here that I also LOVE when we get on a train and go to New York WITH our daughter—it is just a very different thing from going without her.)

Sometimes we bring work or books or other attention-demanding things. But sometimes we don’t, and it gives us a chance to talk with each other for a full ninety minutes (if that’s what we’re into.) Our days can be packed full of logistical details and only fleeting minutes when we are both in the same place at the same time. On those days, bedtime often feels like surrendering and I just go to sleep with hardly more than a half-hearted “How was your day?” So, ninety minutes can feel like an extravagance of time.

During this particular ride we had a chance to talk about life and what we wanted to do when we grow up. It was a good conversation, since we both had a chance to say things we have been thinking about lately anyway. And since we had such a chunk of time, we were actually free to explore some of the tributaries of our main conversation without feeling the usual time constraint to get to the main point.

One such tributary led me to put into words with Erica an insight into myself that I have been carrying around for months without the opportunity to share. That insight is simply this:

I am a lot like the beach at St. Andrews, Scotland.

A couple of summers ago we went to Scotland with Isabel and with Erica’s parents. Erica has relatives in Scotland and we got to tromp across the heather to the site of the old crofter’s cottage whence one of Erica’s relatives left John O’Groats to come to America. It was great for Isabel to get such a concrete sense of one thread of her history. From John O’Groats at the northern tip of Scotland we headed south to St. Andrews for the history and the golf.

Erica’s dad is a golfer and he played a round on the Royal St. Andrews Course. While he was golfing, Erica and her mother went to a castle and Isabel and I went to play on the beach. It was low tide when we got there and the water seemed a mile away. The beach itself was as wide as that mile to the water and flat as a table. I had never seen a beach quite like it. We walked out into the water for a long way and it never got any deeper than my knees. A local woman told us to be careful, “It’ll catch ya,” she said. “The edge just drops off into the abyss.”

Her warning was enough for us. We moved our fun out of the water and back onto the beach. As Bel and I played with the strangely-textured mud-like sand, the tide rolled in fast and hard. We had to abandon our sand city as it flooded in a matter of minutes.

The wide beach combined with the speed of the tide made an impression on me. And this brings me back to my train ride with Erica Saturday night. As part of our talk, Erica asked me to try to push below the surface when we do have time to talk—to not settle for platitudes or shallow observations. I told her that I would try, but that it is not easy for me. I told her about my realization that I am a lot like the beach and the bay at St. Andrews, Scotland. There is a wide stretch that is surprisingly shallow. Even as you walk out you keep expecting it to get deeper, but it doesn’t happen. Then, after what seems like forever, there is a drop off that, even though you have been expecting it for a long time, takes you by surprise.

I think Erica met me at a time in my life when the tide was high and she mistook that for my permanent state. If I had done it on purpose maybe she could sue for false advertising. But it wasn’t on purpose. I just prefer to swim around in the shallows sometimes and I need a reminder of how interesting, exciting, and challenging the depths can be.

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