It seems “normalcy” is in high demand. I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting or demanding it the last several days. If they could talk to normalcy’s manager, it would be in trouble; if I could manufacture it in a shed and sell it out the back door, I’d be rich. Sadly, such is not my skill set.
Instead, from what I have I give to you: today I took a walk.
You may or may not have the ability to walk outside right now, but please join me. You’re welcome to share my eyes and thoughts, skin and nerves and bone. Normal or not, today is a day to share with others.
I’ve clambered down into a drainage ditch that captures stormwater runoff from my apartment complex. A few days ago it held water from recent rains. Then, it looked mysteriously swampy. It looked like the sort of place you might see alligators, maybe even plesiosaurs, as wading birds stalked through the pools. It looked like the sort of place with lost temples and malaria and Indiana Jones’ Lost Sequels.
Today the water and plesiosaurs are gone. In its place are grasses and clovers, oxalis and plantain and dandelions: the sort of determined springtime growth best described by the richness of the word “vegetation.” I balance on the concrete rim of the stormwater outfall structure, avoiding the teeming life as I watch. There’s a constant fluttering motion over everything from small moths and butterflies, white and dusty blue and yellow and speckled black and grey. They are busy with the business of pollination. They are busy ignoring me, not that it takes any effort. For this moment, this is their meadow.
The butterflies aren’t alone. The birds are also here, everywhere. They’re mostly mourning doves, blue jays, and mockingbirds, a Central Texas trio, their voices the only sound that out-competes the grasshoppers. Sweet softness from the doves, and a puckishly trilled repertoire delivered with the mockingbird’s usual panache; the less said about the jays, the better.
Even on a day like today, with so many distractions, I pay a lot of attention to where I’m going. You just can’t trust Texas grass. It harbors all sorts of surprises. Self preservation has taught a habit of watching the ground to avoid fire ant mounds. But today I have to look up more often. Inchworms the color of a kiwi’s insides drift through the air on silk strands. A few times I have to dive quickly. The tiny critters drift deceptively slow until they’re right upon you. The trick is to avoid diving into a fire ant nest when you’re busy avoiding airborne inchworms.
In the shade it’s a lovely temperature for cold drinks and deep thoughts – not the kind you need to tell anyone, just the sort you keep for yourself. I think if you’re lucky, the bedrock of your personality is laid down on an afternoon like this: sunlight, breeze, the whirring of grasshoppers, slow liquid layers of thought that settle around your hippocampus, sealing in time. As the seconds evaporate, the warmth remains. It settles in through your eyes, your skin, and fills you out like a second skeleton.
This is the sort of day where boredom has no meaning, because each second matters.
From an apartment balcony comes the sound of someone sneezing. I make a wide circle around the building.
The non-human world is utterly oblivious to the panic, the anxiety, the talk of the economy and political games of chicken. The non-human world has exactly one thought: it’s spring. What with ice ages and meteors and volcanoes, you can’t take spring for granted. You never know when you’ll see another one.
It’s worth it to see this one.
Now I admit, I don’t lack fear. I’m afraid of wasps, terrified of hornets, and obsessively horrified by scorpions. I have bad luck with fire ants and remarkable luck tripping into armadillo holes. It’s a shame I live in Texas. But it’s a constant source of wonder I live anywhere, at any time. It’s worth paying attention to the moments around me, because no one else has seen them through my eyes and I may never see them again.
I try to pay attention to living, because it’s a limited commodity. My life, yours – one day they’re going to irretrievably change, or end, or evolve beyond anything other humans will recognize.First Draft
Are you looking for “normal”? This is what it looks like: constant change. Continents, species, cells, sunrises: none of them are ever stable. None ever reach a point where they finish changing. Life doesn’t bear exceptionalism. If you’re in the game, you’re in; there are no free passes on death or chance.
But humans get this weird ability to choose wisdom with every turn. With each new experience, each new disaster, they can choose to pick up empathy: the ability to see another life from the outside-inside.
Are you looking for normal today? Look out your window. Sit on your doorstep. If you’re able, take a walk around the block, away from others. Walk towards your thoughts; look for change, growth, decay, the sounds of continents and the silent seconds of a sunrise. It’s true that one day, maybe today, you’ll change, or end, or evolve. Each of these things are normal. Each of these moments are your life.
And if I ever do perfect the recipe for normal, I’m happy to offer you a great deal per gram, cash only.