I am very lucky to have spent this New Years weekend in Seattle in the presence of my best Seattle friend, a person I lived with and spent most of my time with for the majority of four years. The past year and three months have been a realization of adulthood, as the two of us have been separated by most of the American continent in New Orleans and San Francisco/Portland. I hugged Stephanie goodbye in the New Orleans airport in September of 2010, very cognizant of the fact that it would be awhile until we reunited, having said goodbye to our other best friend and roommate, Colleen, earlier that day. Colleen is now in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer!
That being said, my reunion with Stephanie was wonderful. Her hair had grown from its wavy few inches as I’d last seen it last to beautiful, shoulder length dark brown waves framing her face. Reunions are beautiful. The moment you embrace a loved one and see their face after a long absence, feel their comforting presence once again…there are few feelings as exhilarating as this. Especially with close friends, as it has also been with my best friend from high school, distance over time never fazes. It must be the certainty and unfailing loyalty of a true friend that makes that time passed seem like none at all. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is actually being released in movie-form soon, the narrator (a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell) describes reunions in an poignant way that seems to aptly describe this emotion I am hinting at:
“I like to see people reunited, maybe that is a silly thing but what can I say, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone” (109).
Wiser than his years, huh? Oskar Schell is quite the character and I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good novel of urban exploration and innocent whimsy, but with ribbons of sadness woven throughout. Oskar’s words encompass much of what this weekend was to me: the old and familiar intertwining with new possibility, past memories and missing of a person replaced with memories currently forming. On New Year’s Day, after sleeping in until noon, Steph and I set out on an adventure of Discovery Park. I am really attracted to the idea of rituals at important life transitions- hikes on New Years Day, purging of material possessions right before a move, sunset walks on a birthday- experiences of meaning to inspire reflection. My thought is, if we don’t take time to mark them with memorable outings, these days will prove meaningless and pass by as just another Sunday.
January 1, 2012 proved to be a beautiful, mild day. The air had a bite to it but the sun made its way persistently through strong, dark pine and fir branches, casting long shadows on the damp pavement. The parking lot at Discovery Park was full; it was exciting to see so many people out- either following through on New Years resolutions, celebrating one of the last days of work/school-freedom, or marking a holiday as we were. People with dogs, people with babies, running, walking, strolling, reflecting, throwing rocks, picking up sticks, looking out at the view through the naked forest, walking up to the bluff overlooking Puget Sound, or hiking down onto the beach with its smell of seaweed, salted rocks, and the omnipresent deep, dark water.
I had come to Discovery Park while a student at Seattle University many times. Once on a geology field trip to observe the striated glacial layers of Vashon Till, Esperance Sand, Lawton Clay, and the Kitsap Formation that support the bluff (see Washington Department of Ecology’s website for more information). Once on a field trip in a human ecology class to identify native plants and imagine ourselves as members of the Native American settlement that was discovered in Discovery Park on the West Point beach in 1992. And twice to tour the West Point wastewater treatment plant with an environmental service immersion I led. It is interesting to note that Discovery Park has an incredibly long history of importance for humans, first as a rich ecosystem that housed a Duwamish settlement, transitioning into a role as Fort Lawton starting in the nineteenth century, and now as a reclaimed public park.
The natural beauty of Discovery Park is astounding, a reflection of the grand magnificence that is Seattle’s geography. The pungent, salty marine presence of the Puget Sound, always attracting gulls, colorful starfish, driftwood, and the sorrowful bellowing of silky black seals. And the long chain of rugged, white-studded Olympic and Cascade Mountains to the North, their navy blue and white contrasting with the silvery-grey of the water and the light blue of the sky. When we arrived on the beach, the sky was flushed with peach, pink, and deepening blue, making the snow on the Olympics shine even brighter. A freight barge floated lazily by, transporting cargo to a far-off destination. From above on the bluff and on the stairs leading down through a heavily wooded hillside, the ripples on the water were subdued and calm, rocking slightly to and fro as they rested. Steph reflected that, as the tide was out, the grey pools that the ocean left behind on the beach with their miniscule striated ridges, resembled the patterns that rubber stamps leave behind when they’re not properly inked. I thought they also may have resembled fingerprints. Giant ones.
We sat upon large pieces of driftwood and wrote down our intentions for 2012. I was reminded of past trips to Larabee Park in Bellingham and an afternoon I spent writing on a lonely beach at Lopez Island. A half moon hung in the sky, patiently waiting for its moment to shine as the sun descended in its resplendent gold in the West. And the lighthouse winked out its message of acceptance and welcome. The sky was blue and pink, as grasses waved their golden fronds behind us on the slight breeze. Gulls circled above, crying for dinner. And as I had done research on them in 2010, I knew Great Blue Herons lived only a few miles away on the other edge of the park in a ravine refuge. Mt. Rainier’s substantial mass rose above the water to the South, magnificently peeking out of a break in the land, as fathers frolicked with their daughters in the tide pools ahead of us.
As Stephanie and I read our hopes for 2012 aloud, I reflected on this year as well. A year of disappointment, heartbreak, constant transition, exploration, but a year where I have claimed my passions. And a year of separation from loved ones. It is always a question of when I will really see a friend again, despite discussions of plans to meet up in a few weeks or months. The days of all-surrounding community that we experienced at Seattle University are now a thing of the past. As 20-somethings, we are all in constant transition and in a state of everpresent, though certainly reliable uncertainty. (See my previous blog post on this very topic here.)
Amidst certain transition and a process of continual discernment that I am sure I will be processing this year, I hope for acceptance. This intention is inspired by a discussion of Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness that Stephanie and I had with a friend just a few days ago. I also hope to be OK with the unknown and dwell in possibility, in honor of dear friend Dana Upshaw’s life mantra that she fearlessly lived out until her passing in October of this year. Her spirit is living on in how I hope to live my life in the coming months. I am excited for new opportunities- for jobs, for travel, for friendships, and for love. And I am excited to experience community and continue the relationship I have with my city. I began this year surrounded by people old and new, but old and changed. I’ve seen people this weekend that I haven’t seen since September 2010 in New Orleans or since tearful goodbyes in Tacoma in June 2010. As the new begins to co-exist with the old and I move into a new year with open arms, I hope for many things. I embrace the unknown, I see a blank slate ahead, and I know my community will surround me throughout it all. And my writing will be proof that it all happened.
Note: “I dwell in Possibility” is a poem written by Emily Dickinson. Dana Upshaw, a dear family friend, passed away in October 2011 from a 14-year battle with breast cancer. She embraced this poem as a mantra during the last few years. The message is beautiful and I am grateful that she has blessed my life for the past 20+ years. Read more about Dana here.