Sitting Still

Yeah. I’m not good at it either. But we went to the ocean for a few days to stare out at the water and feel small. And to eat fried things.

There was a whiplash quality to taking this week off, not just wrapping up a long month of hard trail running, but going directly to seafood and soft-serv. Hurry up and slow down. Engines full reverse.

My body needed this. That seems obvious. The coiled tension of incomplete recoveries had built up in my legs and back over the course of the last month, to the point that my sleep was disturbed. At some point, pre-dawn, my legs would start to flex and move, trying to work out the strain somehow.

My mind is taking time to catch up to this unwinding process. Part of it, I’m sure, is the lack of direction, unplugging from the idea of being plugged in. I find that I’m usually a moody mess on rest days anyway, as though I’ve become dangerously dependent on daily endorphins, and taking a full week off has produced tidal surges in my moods and a low-level panic that without a new, defining project I’ll be vulnerable to this off-keel feeling, that I might slip into depression.

What I think is true though, is that it takes time to steady yourself and that’s time worth investing.

I recall a few months back taking my mother to a doctor’s appointment, and because it’s the time of Corona, I couldn’t go and sit in the waiting room. Instead I drove down the street and parked and walked to a bench by the river. I sat for a few minutes and felt bored. I sat a bit longer and a small warbler flew up and perched on a branch above my head. A few minutes more and a family of geese came swimming across the water, the fledglings all trailing behind their mother, and then they waddled ashore and pecked through the grass in front of me, coming so close I could reach out and touch them, but didn’t. The longer I sat, the more interesting things seemed to be going on, and then my phone buzzed, and it was time to go back and pick up my mom.

So I sat on the narrow beach at the mouth of the salt marsh and watched the birds. Laughing gull. Herring gull. Ring-billed gull. Semi-palmated plover. Least tern. Snipe. Sharp-shinned hawk. The sea grasses swished and swayed. The smell of brine and slowly dying things wafted off the marsh. The clouds capered and drifted. We went back at sunset and walked out on the low tide to a sand bar and basked in the pure beauty of the day changing to night.

It’s funny how the poetry of those moments, when I felt calm and content, jarred against the anxieties piling up in my mind as I sipped coffee and wondered what I would do next with my life.

Sitting still requires endurance, maybe even more than going all the time. I’m sure there is some happy medium, but maybe not for me.