The other night on the Grand Street Waterfront, I shared a bench with a family whose two young sons were playing on the rocks near the water’s edge. I’d left my apartment in hopes of filling my mind with anything other than the worry it had been steeped in all afternoon, which had something to do with the completion of this blog post among much more pressing deadlines, and the arrival of certain checks before the first of August, and the fact that my visiting nephew had cried for the second night in a row when I’d left before dinner, causing me to second-guess my decision to live thousands of miles away from a family that had grown to include members who were startled to find that I didn’t in fact live inside a telephone.
“I want to throw rocks,” announced one of the little boys on the waterfront, his fingers already grasping at pebbles. His mother gestured toward the river and he heaved in a handful that landed in droplets around his ankles. Minutes later, his father joined him, looking for flat stones, explaining how to skip them. It was like magic, he said, watching them graze the water and spring back up again.
I watched, too, even though it was getting dark, even though I had writing due in the morning, even though friends were coming over in an hour and I had no idea what time it was.
It was all strangely hypnotic. Hands scooping gravel. The river glinting gray and orange. The shrieking of little kids drunk on summer, making things fly.
I posted recently about Jerry Linenger, an astronaut who wrote letters to his 14-month-old son from space. In one, he lists what he misses about life on Earth: grass, crickets, the quiet of night. “After I land,” he writes, “my eyes will be opened as wide as yours always are.”
I can think of a few times in my grown-up life when I’ve felt similarly attuned to the seemingly tiny — the clatter of trains, cracks in the sides of buildings, the color of water. More often than not, I’ve found it happens when the less tangible things around me feel enormous.
The morning of September 11, my dad and I took a walk through our neighborhood. I was stunned and afraid and didn’t want to go to school, so we wandered for an hour instead, down tree-lined canyon roads and back. I remember being surprised at what was most calming: dogs barking, gardeners mowing lawns, the slip and crunch of leaves underfoot.
Tuesday afternoon, I visited my family at the apartment they’re renting for the week in Williamsburg. I’d spent most of the day fretting about the many half-finished work assignments that I had piling up in tabs on my computer screen, and I could feel myself dissolving into a puddle of doubts about whether any of it would ever get done, or whether I’d ever work again, or whether it was the right decision to have made to pursue writing at all in the first place.
I left early to finish and Max walked me out, stopping to show me the building’s community garden on the way. It was worth it, he promised.
The elevator doors opened on the second floor to a sweeping expanse of grass, with rows of wooden planters on one side, and flowers everywhere. “Can I walk through them?” I asked.
A man sitting nearby overheard. “Sometimes I roll around in them,” he told me, “to remember what nature feels like.”
So at eight o’clock on a weeknight, in the middle of the city, with taxis on the street below and horns blaring all around, I found myself standing knee-deep in a field of dandelions and echinacea.
A bird landed beside me and it seemed necessary to point and announce to everyone present: “It’s a bird!”
The sky went gray behind me. It was late. But I wanted to remember, so I stayed.