Pulling up stakes, pulling in, closing up, like an anenome. Anemone. A nem Oh knee.
Remember the tide pools at the aquarium: Standing there, too big a child to be a baby, letting my fingers hang over the water. “Touch it, don’t be afraid. See that little boy over there? He’s not afraid.”
There’s always a little boy around in these situations. A tiny, stalwart, five year old standing by to shame you into going on the Space Mountain ride, to shame you into taking your shot like a ‘big girl’, to make you touch the spiky, gooey, wiggly things in the tidepool.
Why? Why to withdraw? Not at regular intervals, but evenly spaced; certain months, certain years. It’s almost like the heart is keeping a subliminal anniversary. The conscious mind trains itself to the moment, like a dancer’s eyes training on a marked target, so the body spins out, but keeps its balance. The subconscious spins out to take the reigns. No voice of authority, no solid direction, just the irresistable yearning to submerge.
Engagement at these times feels heavy, like the effort to communicate with anyone outside an immediate circle would be like heaving heavy boulders, watching them drop a few feet away. Futile. Plain. Lifting bangs out of eyes, wiping the sweat off of forehead, surveying the endless train of boulders still to heave. Why?
A stupid, stupid man wrote a book once called, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. It sold lots of copies, not least because it was somewhat entertaining and provided easy answers to complicated questions. It seemed to excuse the reader from the responsibility to think; all they needed to do is follow a few basic directions as laid down in the book, and interpersonal relations between men and women would become clear and easy to understand.
Dr. John Gray mislead people with his title of doctor, but more likely, the desperation to understand “WHY’ probably mislead people. The generalizations written down seemed to uncover the reason why so many things go so terribly wrong. And it seemed to utterly discount the personal terrain of the human heart.
Since then, self help has always cast a shadow of suspicion in my head. There might be use, value, weight to be gleaned, but I think authors that rely upon generalizations in behavior have missed the basic point: There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer that’s going to help us all get along and find completion. In fact, there may be no answer. Just the effort, the progress of figuring out progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The realization that we’re all different, we all have our strange set of stories, interlocking, shaping us, alienating us, bringing us together until our sharp edged human nature kicks in and finds even that process wanting and misleading.
How can anyone really understand anyone else, anyway? I can’t even understand myself sometimes.
The good news is, sometimes two or more people will have a moment, and get caught in a pure, undiluted sense of wonder. If they’re lucky, they’ll figure out how to just be there, to live for those moments, no holds barred. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who wants to know you, or who you truly want to know. Grace is learning to take people as they come and let their story open to its own page, telling what wants to be told.
My hand still poised over the cold water of the pool. It was time to leave. I would be marked a coward for all time, unless…
I stood there frozen, mesmerized by the shape of the anemone. Wondering if maybe just dipping my hand in the water would ‘count’. I couldn’t touch, I couldn’t. I’d seen on Reading Rainbow about the rockfish that sting, the jellyfish that zap poison to stun their prey. I couldn’t…
“Alissa.. we’re leaving…goodbye.”
They always said that, but parents don’t really leave their children, this I knew. I didn’t lift my eyes from the gently undulating green spikes that pointed every direction. Training my eyes on the spot, I took a deep breath, shut down my brain and plunged my hand into the icy water. My fingertip made contact with something soft, yielding. I gasped and withdrew. It was closing up! I had touched the anemone! I looked around grinning proudly, but my family had left the room, moved down the corridor to other sights, other adventures. Only their voices still reached me.
No one had seen. No one had witnessed my moment’s mastery over fear. Nobody except…
The small, brave boy and his father still crouched at the other end of the pool. The boy was watching me.
“Go on, really touch it this time, Aaron. See? That little girl touched one. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”