The Best, Easiest, Hardest, Craziest Thing in the World
I watched you playing on the water's edge and I ached for you.
Dear girls playing in the Carmel surf, April, 2007,
You are extraordinarily beautiful. I noticed that right away. That’s why I took your picture.
But I was sad the day I watched you playing. I kept losing track of your beauty. My heart was aching and so I worried about yours. I thought this: the odds are against you. By the time you’re my age, statistically speaking, one of you will have an unintended pregnancy, one will be sexually assaulted, and two will be divorced. I’ve never seen statistics on the probability of a broken heart, but as I don’t know any women (or men for that matter) who have made it to adulthood with their hearts intact, I’m assuming that, by the time you’re my age, you’ll know that pain, too.
I watched you playing on the water’s edge and I ached for you. I wanted to protect you from a society who will tell you you’re not thin enough, or pretty enough, or successful enough. I wanted to save you from the times you’ll love someone too much, or the times when you’ll look at the hurt in another person’s eyes and know that you didn’t love them enough. I wished there was a way to steer you clear of all the tiny endings in life that aren’t really tiny at all; they just look that way because we grownups have all mastered the art of the brave smile and the flippant, reveal-nothing response.
I wished you would never become good at pretending to be okay.
It was my anniversary the day I watched you. It was my anniversary and watching you made me cry. I wanted to warn you about love, how brutal it is, how confusing, and indiscriminate, and unfair. I wanted to tell you that love is the best, easiest, hardest, craziest thing in the world. That there is nothing more worth having and nothing more devastating to lose, and that’s true no matter how strong you are, no matter how gifted and stable and sensible; love is bigger and tougher than you.
That’s what I was thinking, watching you play – how love can be such a bully – and then my husband held my hand. It was his anniversary, too. He held my hand and we didn’t say anything, even though there were a lot of things that still needed to be said. We were all talked out by then. Love is like that too. It can break you open and empty you out in the blink of an eye. We were pretty empty, but we still had that, his impulse to reach out, mine to reach back. That was something.
And we had you, filling up the moment in a way we couldn’t, extraordinarily beautiful, goosebump happy, daring the ocean to touch you, knowing it would, your nervousness building inside you as you waited between waves, building and then rising up, spilling out each time the water splashed against your legs (somehow, magically, a surprise every time), your peels of laughter filling the air like notes from the wildest song.