Written: Summer 2016, poolside. Posted: now, much later.
I’ve never been much of a sunbather. I’m best described as fair, pale, translucent, so the sun’s rays have never been nice to me. However, after moving into my new complex this spring I decided to take advantage of this benefit I had been given and spend a mere 45mins every other day lounging poolside, increasing my Vitamin D intake and decompressing from what each day held.
One particular afternoon, the sky was overcast, the crowd at the pool was small, and I was reading Ed Hirsch’s book “Gabriel.” I’ve returned to this book multiple times to relive the experience of engaging with it which includes everything on the spectrum of fear and compassion to grief and resiliency. I’m sure that book, swimming in the back of my mind, informed my reaction to the following scene.
I was reading when I heard wailing from a nearby child, adorned in floaties and sunscreen, who was being placed in “timeout” by his mother. He had thrown a sand pail into the pool, splashing everyone. “We do not throw things,” she said. His mom escorted him to a corner, near a holly bush and told him to stay there. “We do not throw things.” As he stood there sobbing, at either his disobedience or the concept of standing in a corner or being torn from his mother’s arms, he began sobbing deeper, turning moans into wails, long strings of vowels: “mooooooommmmyyyyyyyyy.” Over and over. “We do not throw things,” and all the while I knew that quite often as humans, we did in fact throw things.
In that exact moment, I wanted to hold him. I wanted to console him in a way I have never wanted to console a child. And when I say I have never wanted to console a child, it’s an authentic statement. Some call it a lacking. I call it a general disinterest. But in this moment, I wanted for this child to call for me in a way that reminded of my capacity for compassion and consolation. This is not say I have changed my mind after 39 years and want kids. This is to say I had arrived at a place where I longed to console another human who was suffering. I’m pretty sure “Gabriel” brought me to that space. And I’m thankful for that.
I used to tell an old lover of mine, “Tell me something good.” As if I needed to desperately to hear something good whispered into my ears. It was a begging of sorts. A yearning for something that would make me feel what I felt this day as I watched that child learn the lesson, “We do not throw things.” When for me, the lesson was “we do not throw things away.”