ACT I - Breakfast with the lady in the pink spa robe
I took a deep breath and walked over. Smiling, I said, "Excuse me, let me grab that jacket. I dared not carry it and a full cup at the same time."
"Were you sitting here? I didn't notice the coat. I'm sorry." We were both polite in that way that strangers are in awkward moments.
"No problem. Don't get up." I retrieved my jacket and phone and crossed to an empty table for two where Bill joined me for a leisurely breakfast. He returned to the room to write a progress note and I lingered over the view. Beyond the lawn and flower beds, the azure water of the Pacific sparkled in the morning light. The window frames transformed the scene into a series of pictures. I took a couple of photos, then screwed up my courage and once again walked to the corner table from where, during breakfast, the young woman had glanced at me a couple of times.
She looked up with a pleasant expression and I said, "Excuse me for this intrusion but I hope the episode of the red jacket didn't diminish your experience. Could we have a do-over? You know...meet again?"
She was beautiful, with flawless light brown skin and big dark eyes that lit up when she smiled. "Of course. I'm sorry about the mix-up. I wasn't paying attention."
Paler-Than-Ivory and More-Caramel-Than-Ebony met and quickly discovered that both of us were born in the south and now live a few miles apart by the bay. She described her birthplace in West Virginia as home to "3,500 people including those in the surrounding area. And I don't mean suburbs but the folks who live in the hills." Then she added, "From as early as I can remember, I thought the stork had dropped me in the wrong place." Now fully engaged, the minutes flew by as we connected. As I thanked her for the chat, I added, "We should've pushed two tables together." She laughed and agreed.
ACT II - Turn left at the stump with the Blessed Mother holding a bass clarinet
We headed once again to the unique home deep in the big woods. The dwelling is a series of small buildings connected with stairs and walkways, built incrementally over a number of years by its owner, Bill's patient, now unable to ride long distances due to a back damaged more by sitting (he's a master bridge player) than by the heavy lifting. This time I met his wife, same age as I am, dressed in jeans and a sweater. She moved with a natural ease. Her long, straight hair, equal parts light brown and gray, escaped from behind her ears with every breeze and whipped across her face, iconic and warm. Each time the strands were tucked once more with an unconsciously elegant gesture. Is there any better company than a woman comfortable in her own skin? (Or a man...but our men were nowhere to be seen at the moment...gone temporarily but not forgotten.)
We sat outside on the porch and looked out over the valley and mountains beyond, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers...and a single, curious, eavesdropping lizard. I confessed to having described their home - a blend of art and whimsy - as "the hobbit house". She replied that they call it "the house that acid built", adding with a smile, "That was a long time ago."
The conversation turned substantive. For a couple of disparate women - The Art Major and The Forest Ranger - we hold similar views. Never apolitical, we have been quiet for a very long time...not so much now. The morning passed in a nanosecond but I left with a longer reading list and gratitude.
ACT III - Homecoming
The journeys of three women intersected that morning. Our roads had carried us out of West Virginia, south Georgia, and California's central valley to new vistas, not so much "away from" as "toward". More importantly, "into"...the interior journey of choices, assimilation, experience that is the road to authenticity, to a home that is not place but belonging. Along the way is a learning. The journey is sometimes rocky, filled with chinks, slick in places. And we never know when we'll come upon some sisters (and brothers) and a few eternal moments around the next bend.
Epilogue - Musing in Gualala
The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year,
and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going,
for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone
for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.
But again and again we avoid the long thoughts.
We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all?
We get confused. We need such escape as we can find.
But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need
...not all the time, surely, but from time to time...
to enter that still room within us all
where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again,
where we are most alive ourselves to turnings
and to where our journeys have brought us.
The name of the room is Remember,
the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart,
we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.
Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember