, Gloucester, MA

June 28, 2013

Finding permanence in fleeting moments

Journal Pages
Susan S. Emerson

---- — It is 3:14 a.m. and I wish I could go back to sleep. My eyes do their part, closing out the vaguely visible silhouette of the tall familiar pines beyond the high window in our bedroom. But my mind continues to race, screaming its silent message to my eyes: “Forget it; she’s wide-awake. She got an early start on her seven hours’ sleep last night.”

I swing my legs over the side of the bed, stand up, and am pleased to note that my lower back does not hurt today. Navigating through the dark as if by radar, I do not stumble against a chair or table or doorjamb. Although I can’t see them, I know by their dizzying scent that the dozen voluptuous deep-pink roses my brother-in-law brought three days ago have opened more fully during the night. Each day, they show themselves to be different roses, changed in color, shape, density, intensity of scent.

In the kitchen, I see that my husband did double duty last night after I fell asleep so early (he always cooks dinner; I clean up). I prepare to make the coffee. Even after 45 years of making morning coffee, there is still that sudden, pleasing, aromatic rush as I peel off the plastic cover of the coffee can or pull off the tight oval top if I’m grinding the beans myself. I can’t suppress a smile.

Today the self-important Cuisinart (with its too many options) begins its job of brewing the coffee. Boiling water drips into the little wire basket, saturating the scoops of coffee I have measured, rendering them a thick muck. The machine wheezes, gurgles, hisses angrily as if there’s a fierce internal fight going on. Then it relaxes and the finished product begins to drip gently and fluently into the waiting carafe below.

I absentmindedly lift a damp sponge from the counter. Unsuspecting and innocent, I’m shocked and hugely penitent to realize I have ruthlessly shaken the world of the tiniest baby spider I have ever encountered. Just bigger than a grain of sea salt, he scampers frantically away from impending danger, where only a split second earlier, he thought this was a suitable place to call home, to live out his life.

In a fraction of a second he responds to what is either his mother’s imparted wisdom or perhaps intrinsic instinct: someone could lift your sponge at any moment, so you must learn quickly to adapt. He hasn’t lived in my house long enough to appreciate that I never, ever kill spiders.

As children, we believed you mustn’t kill a spider because it would make it rain. Now, I think it’s because, like everything, it has a soul.

I poured my coffee and took it up on my deck to hear the earliest birds sing into the air of a new morning. I wondered if they were the same birds that sang yesterday, or different ones, singing different songs.

I thought of people who have passed through my life for only months, weeks, or sometimes, a single, brief conversation, changing the way I think and feel.

And I thought of my most cherished relationship of all, the one that for no reason anyone should count on, has survived for five decades. Like the roses in the vase, it shifts in color and shape as life bumps it around, but it still makes me smile, and for that, I am grateful.

Susan S. Emerson is a regular columnist for the Times.