We didn’t know it was a laurel tree until an old man walked by one day with his granddaughter’s hand in his and asked if we’d cut him a sprig. I watch it now, rocking back and forth in the breeze before I get out of bed in the morning. The little quadrilateral of framed world I can see from the pillow; two elements – blue and green – somehow managing to exemplify our reasons for being here.
She might have been his great granddaughter; she was tiny and he was ancient.
Tomorrow it will be July. Summer makes me nervous; if you aren’t devouring the wonderful world, up to your chin in effervescing life during the brilliant season – in and out of the water, in and out of the blazing heat, floating on expanses of free time, drifting happily in the reverie of heat daze – you probably have an attitude problem.
Next to the laurel tree, the lemon tree. A few ripe fruits and more to come. Down the cold tiled stairs in bare feet and out onto the dusty path, messy haired and blinking; scattered around the lemon tree trunk the herbs I’ve planted – wild, rangy tarragon and robust rosemaries, two sage plants and a forest of oregano.
Something I’ve forgotten the name of.
I may have an attitude problem. I have no interest in floating, drifting or summery forgetfulness. I continue to wrestle with the management of my own time and the imperative to produce. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll do better. The next eight or nine weeks are laid out in front of me like a gauntlet thrown down.
Of course, the water calls. The first time we got in this year was spiritual. Bands of colour and light that partitioned our sight, the music of the Atlantic in our ears, the wash of the water, the folds in its surface curling and slapping our skin, the sun bouncing brightly up from the sea like an epiphany.
But you have to get out, dry off and get on with it. The it of your life. The work. Skin tingling with salt, sun and sand, you must return to the it. Just as soon as you’ve figured out what it is.
When you make the kind of choices we have made – in coming out here we have in a sense taken the hardiness of our bonds with family and friends on faith, let alone that we have rejected much of the common sense wisdom so many hold dear – people divide themselves obligingly into two camps: well-wishers and naysayers.
If you’re not careful the latter can have a corrosive, toxic effect on your it. Everything from remarks and interrogations about the levels of “responsibility” involved to demands that you justify your actions – present and future – to some self-appointed auditor. That you single-handedly take on the role of abating their worry (when a good therapist would be a more appropriate choice).
You won’t know in advance where the naysaying will come from or what it will look like. It isn’t even necessarily verbalized. For us, the silence from some quarters – where we would have expected better – has been deafening. A simple, mute, withholding.
Because you have thrown the pieces of your life up in the air, and because you have embraced an uncertain future – the price of hope – you are vulnerable to these attacks. You don’t necessarily have convincing answers for the interrogators, and what can you do against silence?
Nothing, I am increasingly inclined to believe. Do nothing. Don’t answer the questions, don’t entertain them. Don’t contact the withdrawn. If they refuse to populate the well-wisher camp then they refuse to populate your life. They are gone, and as sad as it may be, it is done.
It isn’t as if we are alone. We have our well-wishers. Family, friends, you – former strangers who have taken the time to follow our story, to leave your kind pat-on-the-back comments here.
It isn’t as if we are defenceless. We have our it. Our work. Hopeful little sprigs of progress are already growing – they are tiny and perhaps not all that convincing but then, we have no one to convince but ourselves. Well-wishers don’t require convincing – they celebrate your little triumphs as though they were great triumphs, as though they were their own. When you falter, they keep you going.
So, keep working, we tell ourselves. Work more. You don’t know what’s coming next, and neither does anyone else. You don’t know what you’re capable of, what you can reach. You don’t even know what you have till somebody asks for it. We didn’t know it was a laurel tree.
With a bit of luck the little girl will do something in the future that her grandfather or his children will wholeheartedly disapprove of. That a supposed friend of hers will disdain her for.
I wish her well with it.
Back up the cool stairs to the upper window, to the top of the tree that down there is beyond my grasp. Here I can lean out and harvest the uppermost branches. Small and slender, not even visible from below, these are the ones that shoot upwards and sway in the light. The best flavor, the sweetest new growth.
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