The Lighted Shore

lighted shore

By Rebecca D. Martin I didn't think it was worth wishing for---not for another couple years, at least. No, I'm not talking about finding my lost camera (I still hold out for that) or my daughter’s missing cloth diapers (I can live without those for a while longer yet). The camera and the diapers are casualties of our recent move. I am certain they are smashed right up against each other in the depths of the unlikeliest box possible in the back corner of the basement where we won't find them till we move again next summer.

No, it was simpler than finding a picture taker or a stack of bum covers, and much more fleeting. And, for that, all the more precious. My daughter, my dear, contented daughter, played quietly and happily for an hour and a half on Sunday afternoon. Perfect girl. Perfect day. My husband and I lazed on the sofa and watched an entire episode of our favorite British detective show. I had one brief moment of guilt over letting my child flip her own book pages alone on the other side of the room for so long, but don't worry; it passed. I settled under the blanket and immersed myself in imaginative renderings of World War II England, courtesy of the BBC.

When our daughter was born, after those first couple months that launched us so far onto the further shore of parenthood we could hardly catch the smallest glimpse of the coastline we'd left behind - after all that, I really only missed one thing: Saturday mornings.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard describes the process of waking up and the

"pictures you dream as the final wave heaves you up on the sand to the bright light and drying air. You remember pressure, and a curved sleep you rested against, soft, like a scallop in a shell. But the air hardens your skin; you stand; you leave the lighted shore to explore some dim headland, and soon you're lost in the leafy interior, intent, remembering nothing."[1]

I know this well. Those pictures you dream, that lighted shore, the dim headland encroaching. "I wake expectant, hoping to see a new thing," Dillard says. Me, too. I used to wake up in the morning and hurry to my writing desk, hoping not to be distracted before I could catch in a net of words the heightened creative thoughts from that fleeting, dreamlike shore before they got lost in the leafy interior of the conscious day. Sometimes I didn't even stop to make coffee. I'd spend an hour in front of the computer and finally come to, realizing I was ravenous.

Some friends of mine wake up differently. One says she comes fully awake the instant she's left sleep behind, clear-headed and ready to think, talk, or do. Another, a roommate during college dorm days, used to all but leap out of her high lofted bed, greeting each morning with a bound of energy and restraining herself mightily from greeting me in like manner. Because, awake in those early moments, I was still on the far side of the headland, imagination heightened, caught up in my shining morning thinkings. Addressing me was dangerous; that roommate spoke in the early hours at the risk of our very friendship. She fast learned a quiet patience with me.

The bright light Dillard describes, the misty minutes between sleep and waking, those used to be my favorite moments of the day. Those were the times my imagination ran most wild, my body felt most rested and comfortable, my creative mind thought best. On most of the Saturdays I can remember in my adult life, back when I had the luxury, I stretched out those moments as long as possible. Especially when Monday through Friday saw me at work at 8:00a.m. A slow-waking Saturday morning was always a gift.

So even before our daughter was born, I had some idea what I was going to be losing. But still, it came as a shock, a cup of cold water in the face. I was thrust into the leafy interior on the alarum note of one long, hungry wail, and the Saturdays I'd heretofore known were lost in the arrival of that other---that far better---gift. That first year, nursing her in those early minutes that used to be mine, all mine, only mine, I mourned the loss.

I've gotten used to it now. Most weekends, I barely give a thought to what Saturdays used to be like, and, somewhere along the way, I've learned to revel in the new normal: the three of us sitting on the floor together, munching granola, drinking coffee and tea, playing with puzzle pieces and books and matchbox cars. Feeding pretend cereal to Pooh Bear. Carrying disparate toys from one room to another. This is a good life. These, too, are shining morning moments.

But I'll tell you, when my husband and I get to lounge on the sofa for an hour and a half---an hour and a half!!---well. Those old, intensely creative writing mornings may be gone for now, but watching an entire movie in the middle of the day, uninterrupted . . . that doesn't fall too far short.

Today's a different day: Monday. My husband works long and hard at his office, and the two of us girls are on our own. I can tell it's a one-nap day, so I won't get in as much writing time or me time as I sometimes do. We'll fill up our minutes with other, more active things. The grocery store, FedEx, Target. A stroll in the late summer heat, play time, dinner prep. Once my husband gets home and we eat and clean up, maybe he'll sit on the floor with our daughter while I dig through boxes and drawers---again---in hopes of finding the camera before we leave for vacation next week. I’m hoping for one long, lighted shore of a beach holiday, and I’d like to capture some of those moments on film.

But I'm learning the camera's not actually necessary, nor is that indulgent, slow morning wake-up time. For now, an afternoon like Sunday's is enough. Yes, that memory will be enough to last me through many early-woken Saturdays to come. That, and the hope that maybe, some Sunday, it'll happen again. I've got another BBC episode saved in my Netflix queue on the off-chance. Till then, Pooh Bear and my daughter eagerly await my attentions.

[1] Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper's Magazine Press, New York: 1974. p.2