An older attorney who recently retired after a long, prestigious career stopped by the office the other night to meet one of the secretaries as they were going to a play. She stopped by my cubicle to say hi, the silver beads on her brown, ankle-length skirt sewn on top of the fabric instead of in it, like water on a duck’s back. I stood. Smiled. Lesa opened her arms and gave me a hug, and asked: “What’s new?” She said it without judgment. Without expectation. She says she thinks I’m the daughter she never had, and I like Lesa that much, too. I admire her. I almost wrote her a note once after she was gone about this. I’ve always admired her. Her work ethic. Her intelligence. Her place in a legal community so much smaller and different than the one the attorneys my age are in now with their bar numbers in the 300,000s. And in response to Lesa’s innocuous question, I told her: “Not much.” “No?” She replied. And I didn’t know what to say.
Life sometimes seems to divide itself up into major events. Neatly and without mess like the compartments of a pill dispenser.
In my Facebook feed, for instance, many of the women I went to high school and college with have changed their profile pictures. They’re wearing white. Gabardine. Veils and silk and lace. They are waving at unseen cameramen. Looking over their shoulder, smiling, with a halo of flowers around their head. Their arms are strewn through the crux of their freshly-minted husband’s arms. I log on and Facebook tells me: “It’s Mary Pickens and Sarah Saunders’ birthdays! Let them know you’re thinking of them,” and I think: “I don’t know either of those people,” because they were already acquaintances, and now I don’t recognize their last names. And it’s not just weddings. Someone is going to grad school. Someone is at 20 weeks. Someone is on their way to Australia. Someone passed the bar. Someone climbed Kilimanjaro. Someone did the Ironman in Hawaii. Someone got the job at Zillow. Events. Babies. Fittings. New jobs. There life seems as simple and linear as that nursery rhyme song: “First comes love, then comes marriage.”
When Lesa asked me that question, what was new, I guess I could have told her I’d gone on a bad date. I saw dolphins when I was surfing the other morning, the aftermath of a boat propeller white against gray flesh.
I could have told her the asphalt in the parking lot at 6 a.m. has changed from uncomfortable, to biting. Tingling. Winter.
I could have told her I still think about law school every day. That I ate the donut the antique store owner offered to me, proving the only way I will ever eat donuts is if a nice stranger who just returned my far too expensive 1960’s lamp does it with a smile and a “no worries.”
But I didn’t say any of this to Lesa, because my life has been quiet lately. Markedly devoid of events. I wrote a magazine feature. I put the blue strap around my knees and stood on my tip toes at barre class, staring into my far older face in the mirror.
I have always admired those people, Oliver Sacks is one of them, who seem at every moment of their life to be fully and loudly aware of how lucky they are to be here. They are in love with life. They end up doing things, I think, because they don’t spend hours running in circles in their minds about what they should or shouldn’t do. They are too excited. Too enthused. Or they are like Georgia O’Keefe – scared, but still more passionate than afraid.
I don’t think life is either/or. It’s not the big, photo-documented events OR the in between. It’s a dance of both. Like a tango that moves forward and back, off and on, moving and flexing, like dynamic things do. And maybe if my life is too calm right now, it’s a sign I need to start thinking about how to challenge myself. Am I okay with the quiet? Is it a normal quiet? Or is it too quiet?
I am not a perfect person. Far from it. And I think one of the things I could improve on is presence. Approaching every moment like it was the only one there is.
Life will not always announce itself with trumpets and confetti. Life will, sometimes, be quiet. But right now, right this moment, it is my father asking me to add another Defendant’s attorney’s signature line to the stipulation. It is my mother asking me where I want to go for my birthday dinner. Friends scheduling in surf sessions. Going to the bar and seeing the guy is shorter than I am.
This is life too – and it’s not just precious, too. It might be half of it.