Reflections from the Grass
Laying on my back in the grass, with both hands crossed beneath my head, one palm cupping the small of my neck, I can feel the heat of the summer night thick around me. I open my eyes and stare at the sky, a black blanket illuminated by thousands of tiny, bright stars. Crickets rustle the grass around me, chirping noisily to each other. Every three seconds my eye is caught by the glow of a firefly, first right in front of my nose, then a few feet towards the huge poplar with its ancient tire swing. Laying perfectly still means attracting the occasional fly; my bare foot twitches, dislodging a curious passer-by. The night is sticky, hot and suffocating, making the slightest movement seem unfathomable. I don’t know how long I’ve been laying here: in the country, watches and clocks become trivial, time becomes a foreign concept. Days seem to stretch into infinity, with people worrying about nothing more than who won the chess match, down at the town’s only grocery store. Folk go to bed at nine o clock, rise at the crack of dawn and start doing nothing all over again. Right now, laying here, with the bright lights of the city a distant memory, I see the point of living in the vast nothingness, otherwise known as the country.
In my real life, laying here beneath the stars for hours would seem like an offensive waste of time. Just think of all the things I could be, and probably should be, accomplishing. Instead, I find myself counting softly — one – two – three —- waiting for the firefly to show himself. If the heat wasn’t so thick, I’d get up and go get a mason jar, poke holes in its top and attempt to catch me one, or three, of them. Right now, that sounds like a novel and completely important idea. In my real life in the city, that would seem like a childish game with no point. Something moves in the woods not to far away from me, just behind the poplar. I barely turn my head sideways to see what could be there, but I really don’t care. Whenever I decide to move — if I decide to move — from this spot, I will walk up on to the white, wrap around porch, with its rickety swing, and open the screen door to walk into the hundred-year-old house of my great-grandmother. I will not lock it behind me, even though the whole night stretches ahead, and there could be a burglar just waiting for a home-owner to idealistically leave her door unlatched. In my real life, in the city, I’d never even dream of leaving my house unlocked while I go to bed because, if I did, I’d wake up to find myself staring into the face of a burglar and who-knows-what-all-else. That thoughts sparks another novel, no doubt stupid, idea: perhaps I won’t move from this spot tonight. Perhaps I’ll just sleep out here, with the stars as a blanket and the grass, heavy with dew, for a pillow, and the serenade of the night animals, my lullaby.
For the first time in ages, I am not in a hurry. For the first time in ages, there is nothing that cannot wait until my heart has its fill of the smell of grass and my skin feels enough of the muggy, sticky summer heat that’s found only in the country. For the first time in ages, all the things that seem so important in my real life—like money and calendars and watches—seem, well, silly. It makes me imagine drawing a comic section for the local newspaper with people running into offices, and cars honking at each other and the glare of neon lights flashing in the distance: it all seems like a game out here, a game in which the objective is to be successful. What that is, though, no one can really say. In my real life, I can dream of making a million dollars but, once I’ve made the million, my definition of success changes to two million. In other words, success is nothing but an illusion, a lie I tell myself in order to get results. The truth is, I can’t become successful if my definition of success is always going to change to something just beyond my reach. What’s the point of it all, if all it does is make me want more? I’ll always be running; the race will never be won.
The grass beside me rustles. I lower my eyes and see a grasshopper. It is the exact same shade as the blade of grass upon which it sits: the only difference is that the grasshopper has a black line down its back. I never would have noticed that in my real life. Now, though, I watch it, curious as to what it’s thinking, where it’s going, what it sees. Part of me wants to roll over and put my face down as low to the ground as his, to see for a moment through a grasshopper’s eyes. Unfortunately, that would make him hop away, and so I content myself just to watch him, through lowered eye-lids. He sits quietly for a minute, his long, skinny back legs making him appear awkward. Finally, he hops away, the grass hisses quietly, and then all goes silent again.
That’s the real difference between this world and my real life. Here, it comes in unlimited quantities. I’ve got the time to stare at a grasshopper. I play a game in my head, trying to see how long the silence will last before it’s interrupted again. This is interesting to me right now because, in my real life, I wouldn’t get to two before the sound of a car whizzing past on the road would disrupt the night’s silence. Nature is important here; there, progress. It’s odd how memories are easier forgotten here than in a place where I’m offered a hundred distractions in every direction. What with text messages, Twitter and Facebook, television and video games, you’d think it’d be a breeze to lose one’s bad dreams. The reality, though, is that, after the distraction is turned off, the city offers nothing but an air conditioned, quiet, house with four walls and a clock by which to judge the numbers of remaining hours destined to be devoted to insomnia. In contrast, here, the only distraction is the smell of a home-cooked meal wafting from the kitchen, and nature, which becomes fascinating when you realize how little you know about it. The distractions of the country bring a strange contentment because they force you to confront yourself, whereas, in the real world, that’s the very thing the distractions are destined to help you forget.
Unfolding my hands from beneath my head, I quickly swat at a disruptive fly buzzing near my eyebrow and then return my arms to their resting place. I think again of time. I find it really difficult to believe that, whatever time it is here right now, it is the same time in the city: I feel certain that I’ve had a longer day than the racers in the city. They complain they don’t have enough time, I’m certain I’ll make the same accusation sometime soon after my return, and yet right now, I feel as though I’ve had ample time today. In truth, the woman in the city has had the same amount of time as I have had today. But I’ve smiled more and, even though she’d undoubtedly question it, my mind has been engaged just as much as hers. The only real difference is that mine has been engaged in doing what seems natural, rather than what seems required. It felt natural to me when I decided to walk, rather than drive, to the store, some two miles away. It felt natural to me when I decided to cook, and then it was natural to laugh at myself when I burned everything. I swear, I’d burn water if I tried to cook it! How ironic that, in my real life, I’d either have thrown pots against the wall or collapsed in tears from my incompetence and a burnt supper. The country has that effect on a person: changes the perspective. It’s easy to laugh when you don’t feel bogged down by deadlines and bank account balances.
Don’t waste your time. That’s what I’ve heard ten thousand times before, in my real life. That’s exactly what I’m doing right now. Yet, it doesn’t feel like wasted time to me. I take a slow, deep breath in and I hold it for a moment, closing my eyes. The air out here smells different; it must be cleaner, because it doesn’t take as much for me to draw a full breath.
The thing is, time isn’t our enemy, but we’ve been led to believe it is. We’re supposed to work overtime, make enough money for the bills plus the savings, squeeze in time for the family and friends, compete (even if its just with ourselves) to have the latest grown-up toy or gadget, donate to charity and go to church on Sundays while TiVo-ing our favorite show, since it’d be a disaster if we didn’t catch the finale of “American Idol.” We think we’d go crazy in the country. That’s what I thought, too. But, without all the noise, I find my ghosts and reconcile with them. We thought we’d be bored, but that’s because we’ve never stopped to admire an ant or to swing, with our heads tipped back in abandonment, on an old tire swing. Out here, where the chief entertainment is conversation, I learn more about the people I’m with, and myself, than about what level I can reach on a video game and I’m left feeling more accomplished too.
The Bible says that something of God’s character is revealed through Nature: that makes me want to spend the next week observing a twig that’s fallen from the poplar in my yard, or learning the ways of the colony of bees that make their home in the maple tree out front. It makes me wonder what song the mockingbird sings, and how I might learn to interpret it. It makes me wonder what a dragonfly says about the Almighty, and how such an insect connects to deer that call the woods behind this house home. Time is about giving freedom to thoughts that don’t have time to flourish in the hustle and bustle of real life. Time is about accepting the fact that each day ends, whether we’re ready for it or not because acceptance of that fact makes me appreciate more consciously every sixty seconds of the hour I’m currently living. In the real world, snapping green beans for an hour, followed by washing and frying potatoes just to eat dinner seems unnecessary since I can just microwave a meal or, better yet, drive by the local McDonalds for dinner. Here, though, the whole point isn’t the consumption of the food but, instead, the time given to conversation and the satisfaction that comes with having prepared your own meal. Regardless of the location, country backwoods or city suburb, the same twenty-four hours exist in a day. Feeling fulfilled within that time depends on what we believe is important. Running the race leaves me drained and worried about the next twenty-four hours. Laying in the grass, staring at the stars, makes me not care if the next minute is my last.
The blades of grass are beginning to itch my bare foot and ankles. Though sleeping outside is tempting, I decide to enjoy the comforts of a bed instead. I rise from the grass, momentarily apologetic that my swift movements disrupt the flow of the night. I glance quickly at the spot where I was laying. I can still see the imprint of my body upon the bent blades of grass. I smile. There, I think contentedly, I’ve made my mark on time today. I turn and head for the porch light, listening for the familiar sound of the porch creaking as I reach to open the screen door. Though alone in the house, I never question the un-locked status of the door as it shuts behind me with a quiet thud.
Such are the moments that define life.