Grace and Whit have just finished two remarkably joyful and relaxed weeks with my parents on the coast of Massachusetts. One day last week, I left Boston early in the morning and went down for the day to work from there so that I could surprise them at camp pickup. My work phone has been screwed up anyway, and there’s wifi, so, I thought, why not?
It turned out to be a weirdly, unexpectedly difficult day. I seemed to be clunking through the world, knocking things over literally and figuratively, Whit was entirely unimpressed to see me at camp pickup (“why are you here? OK, fine, I’m going to bike home, see you there”), they bickered on the tennis court, and it was hot. I was generally out of sorts.
The three of us did have a lovely dinner on the back porch in the cooling, beautiful evening air, and we walked to the ice cream store and down to the yacht club to look at the harbor. This has become a tradition that Grace and Whit like as much as I do. As we strolled home, Grace sighed and told me how much she loved beautiful evenings like this one. The air felt soft on my arms. Dad and I had a fascinating conversation about Walt Whitman (whose work I’m ashamed I don’t know well enough; I’ve already ordered Leaves of Grass) and Grace and Whit calmed down and got in their pajamas and Mum came home from her meeting and suddenly, facing my departure, I felt a swell of keen sorrow. I didn’t want to leave. As it sometimes does, my life crashed over my head and my responsibilities felt heavy.
I tucked Whit in and he rolled onto his side, his eyes gleaming in the dark. “I love you,” he said, and gave me our secret sign that means I love you. “I love you too,” I told him as I stood in the door. “I’ll see you on Saturday.”
I went down to the kitchen to say goodbye to Grace. With the eerie ability to see into my thoughts that both she and Whit sometimes display, she gave me a hug, and said, “tomorrow, when you’re at your desk, Mum, just remember that I’m cheering you on.” My head snapped back to look at her. Only half an hour ago she’d been pouting that I wasn’t spending the night. When did she grow into this empathetic, mature young woman who knew how to put what I needed first? My eyes filled with tears and I nodded.
I hugged my parents and Grace walked me out. She stood barefoot in her pajamas on the sidewalk and watched me get into the car. I told her I loved her and she gave me our secret sign and then, as I turned the car on, she leaned into the open passenger window. “Mummy,” she said, her wet hair wavy on either side of her face, “You’re my wonder woman!”
“Oh, Grace,” I said to her, shaking my head. “I don’t know about that. You’re my wonder girl, though.”
I was blinking back more tears as I drove away, and as the road turned left the whole expanse of the sunset came into view. I gasped out loud. The sky was striated with red, orange, pink, and I pulled into a parking lot to try to take a picture. I couldn’t get a good angle so I kept driving, but I did take one of the fading light as I got onto the highway (ab0ve). As it so often does, the sky acted on my spirit in an ineffable, undeniable way, and I felt the aggravation and challenge of the day ebb almost instantly away. I thought of my parents, who had each been so fully themselves that day, of my children, arguing on the tennis court and yet appreciating the glorious evening and then knowing exactly what I needed at the end of the day, of this place I had so long loved. I felt deeply rooted in the world, a sensation akin to the sturdy joy I’ve written about before. My awareness of this life’s sweetness overwhelmed me, so sharp I felt it in my chest.
And watching the sun go down, I drove home.