Tonight I went out by myself. That’s a bigger proclamation than a lot of people might be able to proclaim. It’s been easier for me than most, as I’ve had a little practice. I feel a great compassion for people who have never had the necessity or the opportunity to have this right of passage. The difference is, now that I’m older, I am a woman who goes out just to get out. When I was younger I went out to be seen or see, spending my last 30 dollars just so I could feel I was part of something “Big”, Big being that unknown definition – it could be a man, a song, a conversation, a moment, just that “Big” that makes you feel you are alive. I had some great times, but I fear they may have been over-romanticized or perhaps I just can’t remember what actually was.
I fought going out tonight – I said to myself, “I’m tired, have nothing to prove to anyone, don’t feel like sitting alone in a restaurant.” I went anyway. Sauvignon Blanc, cheese tray in hand I sat for a while with my Kindle, enjoying my Italian cookbook and the sunset, thinking how proud I was of myself for getting out tonight instead of giving in to the urge to have an egg and salsa sandwich and go to bed early.
I looked up, just as swallows were flying across grey-blue clouds in a blood red sunset. I realized I was enveloped in the presence of greatness -- a looming, aged judge, covered with English vine, huge gnarly knobs and ferns, an ignored witness in the procession of time. This great oak has lived here longer than all of its welcome and less welcome passers-by. There must have been hundreds of conversations about this one who doesn’t love that one, because this one doesn’t do this or that. Blessings or curses of age, youth or circumstance, something not as perfect, attainable or ideal as we in our ever-changing states of being would wish. I imagined the old oak yawning.
Then, just as I was about to leave, superior in my understanding of the benefits of getting older, I saw a living image of my former self. A young girl about 16 setting up her little stage to perform for the night - ”Check, check, testing, check, 1,2, 3, 4.” So shy, so inhibited, so young, a bird-like little chirp–so sure that God put her on this earth to sing. I sat mesmerized, looking at her, thinking how fast the decades since that time have passed, and how I wish I still had that same kind of innocence, passion and ignorance. I was a better singer then than she is -- meow. But she is so much better than I am now in so many ways. Sad to say, but true.
I looked up again at the great oak, the vines twisting around its huge trunk. I thought of my fingers, beginning to show the first signs of age, hard won due to hard work -- why are the imperfections so beautiful on the old oak but so worrisome on my own body? Vines, knobs and discolorations overcoming the trunk of the great oak– why can’t I see the constraints in my own life as becoming a beautiful vine, integral in the overall composition of myself? I thought of times I’ve photographed ancient trees in the wild - how limited and disappointing the photographs have been, shrunken, passionless. Does the old oak smile upon the young girl singing her heart out under its huge branches? Does the old oak smile upon me for simply noticing it is there at all? Does it matter anyway?