September 07, 2005

Return from the Land of Story

The stream runs down out of the forest, widens into a reed–edged pond, and narrows again to cut a valley through the sand beach and empty into the warm sea. The kids and I are playing in the stream on the beach, straddling the foot–wide channel like giants, then rinsing our feet in the cold fresh water. We try to keep from knocking down the tiny wall of sand, and when that gets tiresome, we try to knock it down in exactly the best spots.

Their mother is walking upstream alone, high–stepping slowly through the pond, her hand skimming the reeds. Three white ibis stand in the water at the far end of the pond, and she is trying to sneak up on them. But she’s barely started when they fly away. Still she advances to the end of the pond, and walks further upstream to where it turns left into the forest. Then she’s gone, behind a palm trunk and into the forest.

This is where, if it were a story, it would begin. After waiting for her for several minutes, I’d stalk upstream myself – and not find her. Gone without a sign. In a shocking instant my life would be overturned, and necessity would throw me onto my deepest resources, which I’d discover to be more numerous and more powerful than I’d ever known. I would find reserves of untapped courage as I followed a meager trail to the ends of the earth, facing down formidable enemies, tracing a labyrinthine conspiracy, perhaps even saving the world in the process of finding a lost love – all this, and protecting the loved ones at my side too.

Then she reappears in the clearing. I’m already halfway across the pond. “Nothing much there,” she reports, smiling.

I wade back to the beach through submerged grass, heart slowing down. The kids are tossing handfuls of sand at each other, and then they’re tossing pebbles at a cairn that marks the trail. Should I stop them from throwing rocks? I decide not to, there’s no chance of their harming anything. The decision feels weightless: either way, I wouldn’t have lost. A drizzle is falling from sun–backed clouds. A faraway motorboat, inaudible, slants toward the horizon. The way back to our cabin is mostly on rocky beach, the wave–smoothed stones hurting our bare soft feet just enough to make a pleasant ordeal.

A few yards into the forest is the realm of story. Here in the clear is the realm of life.

God help the person whose life is a story.