“Had they known in these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.” Elizabeth Strout
Last summer, Emma and I started a tradition. She was about to move to Paris to study, Sam had just been married and though we didn’t know it at the time, a tradition began. We escaped Sydney for two days. We didn’t venture far but in those two days we did all the things we love to do both alone and together. We read, we talked, we wrote, we ate, we walked. This year we did it again. Different destination, similar experience. Instead of walking we kayaked and rode bikes.
I took her to a place I visited twice, two years ago. Two years ago I undertook the challenge of writing a novel in one month. As a teacher who worked full-time, National Novel Writing Month fell at a time of the school year when in Australia most teachers are writing their end of year reports. Somehow this fact made me embrace the challenge even more. I got myself organised and set the clock to wake up very early. To accomplish my goal it was necessary to write 1667 words every day. A girlfriend suggested that I book a cabin, or holiday house somewhere to help me complete the task. This challenged me almost as much as the task itself. At 46, I had never been away by myself. I found the perfect place and prepared to spend the weekend writing.
After unpacking my things and marvelling over the small details my host had provided for my stay; port and chocolate, towelling robes, a breakfast hamper… A message came from my friend.
‘Have you been to the end of the pier?’
The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. It was dark. It was late at night. Yet on her suggestion I ventured outside and made my way to the edge of the pier. Over the last four years, since January 2009, I have felt the nudge to go further than I’d normally go. There was nothing threatening or difficult about the edge of a suburban pier on a lake of glass. Going away by myself was not difficult. I simply had never thought of doing these things.
I talked to Emma about this as we dangled our legs in the warm water that lapped around the pier. The end of the pier symbolises something now for me, I told her. It’s a gentle challenge to consider doing things differently, to be fully present, to embrace all the experiences that surround me. It reminds me to pay attention and step out a little further than I’ve been before.
As I do every January, I’m rewriting my goals for the year. As I write them I am completely aware that life is fragile and that my circumstances could change in an instance. I remember the January I spent in my classroom making polka dot cushions for my fairy corner. I remember setting up Felicity Wishes with her tea set under the fairy net when the phone rang and my doctor told me to take Sam to emergency. Life is fragile and we have no control sometimes of our circumstances but everyday we have the opportunity to go to the edge of the pier.
What does the edge of the pier look like to you?