I ate leftover pizza on the deck. Three and a half pieces, but I told myself it was okay because they were small and, plus, I had had a salad for lunch. The small glass of rosé was hard-won—I had visited three stores before finding it, but the unseasonably hot January weather called for it. I was alone in Santa Barbara, quite possibly the best place in the world a person can be alone, or simply be. My mom had gone in the late afternoon, after a long walk along the ocean; it would be another twenty-four hours before some of my best friends would arrive for the real reason I was here in the first place, Rachel’s bachelorette party.
The sky was purpling. Blush-colored above the ocean, the swaths of clouds above the Channel Islands were almost the same shade as the lantana that bloomed in the hills. I took deep breaths, willed my anxious mind to slow down, told myself I should be so captivated by this moment that my head would have no room for anything but wonder.
The last couple of weeks have been hard for me. I am not good at change, which includes things as predictable as changing from one year to the next. When one thing ends, like 2013 did, I feel nostalgic and sad. When something new begins, I feel the measure of the burden of knowing I will not be who I want to be, will fall short, will fail. That being a foregone conclusion, in the dark recesses of a mind cluttered with fear, my anxiety kicks into gear. And, like clockwork, January has rolled around in a dark cloud again.
There are no dark clouds in Santa Barbara, not now. It was 80 degrees here today and the only clouds were the ones gathered twenty miles out to sea over the islands. Mom and I scanned the horizon for dolphins or seals, common sights in this area. We didn’t see anything in the ocean other than pelicans dive-bombing unsuspecting fish, but the low tide revealed a small, dead black porpoise washed up earlier in the day. Its skin was still mostly intact except for two long, shallow wounds looking like nothing so much as plum flesh torn away from its innards. Mom and I got close—I could see its rows of tiny teeth. She took a picture to send to my brother, a surfer whose interest in things Pacific is unbounded. We turned around and put the porpoise behind us, walking past dogs and teenagers in the slanting sunlight.
She drove away just before 5, back up the coast, and I was hungrier than I realized. The Santa Barbara House, as we call it, was built sometime in the 1940s and sits on a hill overlooking first the city, red-roofed and expansive, then the strip of beach stretching east to Point Concepción and west to Carpinteria (Santa Barbara is a south-facing town), then the pier, then the Pacific Ocean, then the oil rigs that sit sentry-like 10 miles out to see, and finally, the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel. It is where my parents will retire, but not yet. It is being remodeled, perpetually halfway done. It is in the college town where I met and fell in love with my husband, the place where I am eternally nineteen. It is a liminal place.
So I took my pizza and my rosé and the local newspaper out to that view, to the wicker table, and said a prayer and tried to muster up the right amount of gratitude, which is almost always more than I have. The gratitude came in waves but left nothing in its wake for me to hold onto, and then the words popped into my head:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing
They’re words from one of my favorite poems, T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker,” and they’re words Mom read at our wedding, along with the words that follow:
…wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
I looked up after I read these words for the umpteenth time, this time on my phone’s glowing screen, and saw a plane cutting a straight line for Orion’s right hand. It blinked in the encroaching darkness, star over star, movement over firmament. The night was quiet except for the noise of a pair of hummingbirds in the oak tree, and I thumbed back up on the screen to re-read this part of the poem:
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
The darkness of God. The hiddenness of God, which God promises in Exodus 33: “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”
The darkness that comes before the scene can change, the darkness that will be the light. In my heart-poundingest moments of anxiety, all I want is a scene change. Waiting is the tunnel I don’t want to go through to get where I want to go. Waiting is what feels sometimes like it will undo me.
“Be still before the Lord, and wait for him,” David wrote in Psalm 37. And I don’t want to wait one more second, but if I must, I will. And I don’t want to waste the waiting, so I will take my pizza and rosé and look into the sky and give thanks, even when I only mean it halfway. Middlingly. The waiting waits, too, and I in it.