Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)
It’s hot; so very very hot outside as I step down from the truck. 9am and already 106 degrees in the shade. In the humidity of this North Carolina June day, I’m barely able to shut the door before my sun-browned skin begins to perspire, making me wish for some sort of full body anti-perspirant. Were I on the beach as the past three days, I could explain away this glisten, but here, in the parking lot of a wooded park, I’m just plain sweating.
Last night’s email argument is on a stilted repeat in the back of my mind, and so is my self-reproach for even being in this spot. I’m here, you see, with a would-be lover; someone who has been standing in for my husband providing encouragement and support and genuine interest in ME. It’s a long story how it got this far, but we’re here and about to embark upon what will turn into an entire grand day together. We’re lucky, he and I, to have encountered a parks employee as we begin our search. We’d recognize very clearly later, that had we not, this portion of the day would have proven fruitless. As we follow our guide past a group of what must be summer-campers, I leave my misgivings in a small compartment in the depths and decide instead to embrace my excitement and gladness to be HERE, NOW.
It’s only a short walk, and mostly shaded, but the droning wrrrrr of the crickets and bees and gnats combine with the sultry torpor of the heavy air to call more obvious attention to how actually HOT it is. Mr Forest Ranger, a man in his 60s seems unfazed by it as he leads the way in his state-issued green Dickies. He’s perspiring only lightly around his brow and is chattering away about the different plants we’re passing and how his daily life is centered around caring for them. Conspiratorially, he stops, and makes an obvious decision in our presence. “There’s only the two-a yous, so, well, watch yah step and I’ll take yah over here where we’ve got it closed off to the public. We close it because we don’t want kids tramplin’ everything….but yah look like yah’ll be careful. So I’ll take yah here….there’ll be betta ones and olda to look at….” It’s not lost on me that I’m in the south and have somehow found a guy from Long Island–I smile broadly.
Another minute and Mr Forest Ranger stops and says “Ah….heeya we ah”, and looks down. I have to squat to see, because I can’t figure out why he’s stopped. Then, as I look down, there on the floor of this state run forest, are hundreds of Venus Flytraps.
The buildup to this moment has been great, and it’s not just the heat that is overwhelming. As I stoop over to peer at these teensy miracles that grow naturally ONLY HERE, in a 70 mile radius around Wilmington, I am struck dumb by the enormity of my life. I am at once remorseful and happy; sad and amazed; grateful and waspish. I am at internal war for the next cluster of moments. I rail at my husband for being so daft, cruel and aloof; in this moment, it should be him by my side. I thank the ruling powers that he is not there to poke fun at my amazement and be generally disinterested. I marvel at these little plants and at the beautiful friendship growing between me and my companion. I’m in a spell and floundering wildly between mad guilt and supreme pleasure at being just where I am.
It’s then that I feel a sudden tingling on the back of my right shoulder, and the spell is broken. I flinch violently to my feet and gasp because it feels like something large is crawling on me. I manage only barely to get this thought out as a question, and my companion assures me, with an unexpected swipe of his forefinger, that no, it’s not a gigantic bug, but a slick, heavy bead of sweat that has broken loose from its perch and slid wetly down my shoulder into the back of my tank top.
The day will wind on into one of the best in my memory, but it’s those few moments that will stand out. I will remember being awash in conflicting feeling, in complexity and astonishment at the turns that life takes. THIS is what it is to be human; the contradiction and the episodes of heavy feeling. I breathe it in, absorb it, wonder at it. Today, right now I am alive. I am alive and it’s these flaws, these perfectly imperfect moments that make me KNOW it.