I love this picture. You can’t tell from the image, but under my right foot is a balance beam, four-inches wide, four feet high. I have other more spectacular pictures, mid-air, mid-flip, at the apex of a no-handed cartwheel. But when I look at this one, I remember, really remember, what it felt like. To be in that body, to be thirteen—having all the horrible and complicated feelings that rain down on a girl as she walks through that gate into her teen years. All the inner conflict. Too many vices to choose from. Too many awkward longings and cravings. To have all of that. But to also have this. This near-perfect arabesque on a four-inch beam that I felt like I could hold forever (and would have if I could have).
Once I stretched my leg back and up toward the ceiling, locked my standing leg into balance, and found a spot on the beam on which to rest my gaze, my insides stopped: My mind’s worried mess. The anxious tug in my chest. The guilt that choked my stomach back then. All of it, all of me, floated in a silent, immense, kinesthetic pause. I was both purely me and not me at all. I was arabesque, I was beam, I was leg and air and chalk and muscle. I wasn’t girl but body. I wasn’t brown-haired and blue-eyed, but serious, wise, perfect.
When presence becomes an escape, you know you’ve hit the mark.
My daily life as a grown-up, as brown-haired and blue-eyed and utterly imperfect, is spent in search of more and more instances of this—in someone or something, in some sound or flora or fauna or song, in something bigger and braver than me.
Last Friday I met a painting—bigger and braver than me to be certain. I had just turned my back on Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” too familiar to be impressive, and there it was. No crowd. No camera flashes. Just museum air between me and the painting. I’d never seen it before. Not anywhere.
Because I was new to it, the escape came easy. The pause. The presence. When I look at it even tonight, several days and degrees of separation later, it still happens:
I can’t explain it any more than that. And you might not feel it. It takes what it takes for each of us. And last Friday, this is all that it took. Certainly a painting is not an arabesque on a beam. It’s not exertion of the body. But it’s still a body of a sort—it still stills the body, the body experiencing it well before the mind.
This Saturday, it may be the bins of greens at the farmer’s market, the pints of peaches and plums. Or just a rare moment when the vents outside my apartment window stop their hums and whirs and rattles, and all I’ll hear is the silence that is out there, and the quiet that is in here. And I’ll breathe it in. I’ll pause.