The traffic outside of our apartment sounds like a mechanized ocean with waves cresting and falling into a nearly suburban silence. In early morning hours it is lucidly quiet, and I feel the surge of ideas under my skin. I ask them, “Who are you? Why don’t you come out?” Even as I ask, I know.
I have taken this time off as a sabbatical. I have rested. I have worshipped. But these persistent questions—What/How have I rested/worshipped?—gnaw at me. I have tried to re-center myself. I have tried to rediscover myself. I have tried to be sensible. I have tried to dream, and when that is done I have tried to dream sensibly. I have tried to assess who I am, who I want to be, and how to bridge the gap between the two. My eyes well with sheer relief at reminders of who I was, and with the knowledge that for better or worse that person lives inside me and grows so that I am my own parent and my own child and am becoming my own grandparent, my own aunt, my own best friend all collapsed inside of me and nesting in each other.
Listening to an episode of Definitely Not the Opera, Sook-Yin Lee asks, “What is one surprising act of kindness you’ve been on the receiving end of?” The people she asks draw a blank, but I knew my answer immediately. Anytime anyone smiles at me. Anytime anyone holds the door. Every small show of kindness that I see is valuable and meaningful. I hope that I never take these things for granted again. I hope that I always remember how it feels to be so surprised to be acknowledged. I hope I never forget how lack of courtesy can rob one of dignity as surely as overtly undercutting actions can.
When I am up late enough to find myself wading through silence, this sabbatical takes its purest, most direct form. I allow the itchy ideas under my skin to unfurl until they seed in my nails and eyes and teeth. Just past my lips and eyelids and fingertips and toes, they grow to fruition and drop heavily and singly around me. The moment before I look at them, I see them all there urging me towards a future that feels so uncertain.
And then they disappear.