There once was a girl who went fishing every Sunday with her grandfather. She loved these trips and looked forward to them every week, for even though she couldn't put her finger on it, there was something about her grandfather that always set her heart at ease.
As they packed their lunch for the trip, her grandmother tisked from the other room, "you ought to be going to church with the rest of us Walter." (she said this every sunday) And just like every other sunday he replied…
"God is where I am Margaret, and I tell ya, he's a bigger fan of salt water than holy water," he prodded, "I swear a little salt and sea-air will smack any ideas of sin right outta ya, my love." She laughed her sweet, soft hearted laugh, and he kissed her goodbye.
The girl loved watching that kiss almost as much as she loved the trip itself, for every time he kissed her it was like it was for the very last time.
That was the way he loved too. Like it was the first and last time, all rolled into one.
It was a fearless kind of love, it seemed to have no motive and no wanting for itself, it was unlike anything she'd ever seen. In fact she couldn't remember ever seeing him afraid of anything at all. She pondered this on the drive out to the cliffs, as the damp morning air rushed past her through the windows and made her feel like a bird must feel on the breeze.
"Papa?" she turned to him.
"How come you don't seem afraid of nothin'? Don't you ever get scared? Don't you worry about stuff?"
"Well…" he paused, "that happened for a time, but then one day I discovered a great secret."
"What kind of secret? The kind you can tell me??"
He smiled slyly, "Oh I suppose I can let you in on it now, but I warn you, not many seem to understand. But I'll bet you catch on right quick little one, you always did have that sparkle in your eye."
She sat up tall in her seat and faced him with full attention, she wanted him to know she meant serious business with this. She always did, and somehow, he always knew.
"Alright then, so this is gonna require a little investigation on your part darlin', are you ready?"
"Oh heck yes Papa! I'm ready."
"Okay, so close your eyes and remember a time when you felt very scared, positively fearful… you got one?"
She paused for a moment, "Yes Papa, I got one."
"Okay good, now keep your eyes closed and tell me how that fear felt, tell me how that REALLY felt, except without ANY thoughts, just feel that baby girl," he paused for a moment and then said, "you know what a sensation is?"
"Yes. It's like a feeling, right?"
"That's right. So now tell me about those sensations, just them, no thoughts ABOUT them. Look at those sensations just as plain and naked as the daylight sun."
She was not going to mess around with this. She really looked. She looked just how he said to look.
At first, she saw all those thoughts come up around the feeling, and noticed how they seemed to tell a story—kind of like a narrator in the movies, or a sports commentator like the ones on dads football games. She thought of the day when Papa had collapsed in the Orchard, and the ambulance came. How he laid so still and wouldn't open his eyes. How her mother was crying and screaming. How she hugged her arms around his neck and felt the scruff of his stubble on her face, how she thought she'd never be the same without him, how she might be sick right then and there, how she'd always be broken somehow, how her family would always be broken… but that was all the story. The story seemed SO strong, the thoughts were saying all kinds of things and worst-case-scenarios that weren't even actually happening in the moment of the event, but she set them all aside and looked at the sensations, plain and naked as the daylight sun, just like he said to.
"Well, there's a constriction type feeling in my heart… well, wait… actually if I look a little closer, it's not really constriction, just a kind of tingling really, like a radiant sensation, like a radiant heat maybe."
Again the thoughts tried to story over the sensations, but she kept looking straight at the feelings themselves.
"There's also a feeling in the gut, Papa. In the belly. Like a dropping… an uneasiness…" she paused, and he asked her, "What is uneasiness darlin'? If you didn't have that word to put on it, what is it then? You've been taught all your life to name these feelings, and then you're taught what those names are supposed to mean. Have another look, without the names, without the meanings, sweetheart."
She kept her eyes closed and felt WAY into that feeling, setting aside everything she'd ever learned about naming these feelings, and what these names were supposed to mean. She started to see... they were part of the story too.
"Well, it's not uneasiness, cause I actually don't know what 'uneasiness' really means Papa. That's just a name for the sensation. If I look really close, it's actually more like... well, just a feeling of no-bottom, or like you can't hold on, or something. I really don't know how to even describe this to you! It's different than I thought it was."
"Yes, sweetheart. So would it be safe to say that it pretty much all boils down to this 'radiant, bottomless, can't-hold-onto-it-ness?"
She smiled, "Yes, without the thoughts that tell the story, that's as close to it as I can say with words."
"Yes. That's it. Now close your eyes and remember a time when you felt very much love… when you felt so much love you thought you'd positively burst. Have you got one?"
She didn't say so, but she didn't need to even think of a time, she felt that love every time she saw him.
"Yes papa, I have one."
"Okay now, just like before, tell me how that feels. Tell me about those sensations, without any thoughts storying over top of it."
She kept her eyes shut tight and pictured the day when Papa had come home after being away for almost 3 weeks, how it was dusk and the sunlight spilled over his car in the driveway, how the screen door sang it's rusty song as she darted out it to meet him, how her feet felt on the warm earth of the driveway, and how the air smelled sweet and hot and the dust of it tickled her nose. She thought of how she'd missed him, how long he'd been gone, how he was the only one who really understood her, how much she appreciated him, and needed him… but that was all the story… so she looked a little closer. Plain as day, just like he said.
"Well, it's a warm sensation in the heart again... a tingling, it's so big feeling it's almost like a constriction again… but no… it's not actually constriction, just that tingly radiance. And the belly, it's that can't-hold-on feeling again Papa, that no-bottom feeling! The love feels so big, just like the fear did, it feels bigger than me Papa!"
"Yes," he replied, as his eyes began to swell with tears, "So really… really, truly… they are actually the same aren't they? Fear and love boil down to the same. It's LIFE, sweet girl... a radiant bottomless can't-hold-onto-it-ness," and wiping a tear from his eye, he added, "and it packs some heat in either case right?!" he laughed out loud, and it filled her world with the beauty of its sound.
She was stunned. It seemed so backwards. Yet somehow she'd always known this somewhere. She thought she might burst, the feelings had seemed to swell 10 times their original size!
"It feels so big Papa, it's too big. I can't contain it!"
"Ah," he said, leaning a little closer, "this is the most important part of the secret."
"You don't contain it."
He winked that sly wink, with that sparkle in his eye, and that smile she loved so much, "But that is for another Sunday darlin'."
He parked the car at their usual spot on the bluffs and she stared out over the ocean as if she'd never seen it before. The blue-green of this expanse that she had both loved and feared all the days of her life, was the very thing that love and fear had been all along: this radiant bottomless can't-hold-onto-it-ness, with no beginning or end.
It was so much more than she could ever understand, but she KNEW.
Without "knowing" anything at all, she knew.
She got out of the car, ran ahead to the bluffs edge, and blew a kiss into the wind.
A kiss that was like for the first and last time, all rolled into ONE.