Friday, July 28, 2006

two weeks later

I'm still peeling from the Cedar Point trip two weeks ago. How is this possible? But the sunburn is past the painful stage and now my skin is just a cheerful, ruddy pink, like the complexion of a friendly alcoholic.

Layers flake away and reveal more pink underneath. I am the lobster. Koo koo ka choo.

Now that I've been to Cedar Point I finally understand how and why my brother and sister looked forward to going there every summer since they were eight. When I asked (pressing for details), they'd just say, "It's -- well, it's just really fun," but fun is not an adjective that captivates my imagination. Fun is not in my repository of received wisdom, so I eye it skeptically.

They didn't tell me that the sand on the beach would feel like flour under my feet, and that the amber waters of Lake Erie would remind me of the pleasure of freshwater swimming -- a silty-wet floor with unexpected dips and swells, fish that swish curiously near before flapping away again, the flick-flick waves they make swimming away tickling your toes like an old lady's petticoats.

Someone must have forgotten to mention how the lighthouse blinks lazily at the end of the jetty, the stalwart beacon that guides and warns. How festive the roller coasters are, played against a sunset sky and a quiet surf. Or how, in the morning, the Beach Boys sing on the boardwalk and tanned, oil-smoothed people bat volleyballs obligingly back and forth across nets like actors in paid advertisements for summer.

It was my first visit, at 37, to such a place as this. Throughout my childhood my brother and sister always went, with their father, but (my mother warned sternly) were I to breathe amusement park air and ride the roller coasters, my arms would fall off. Yes, they would, straight off. It happens, Sharon, it happens all the time. There was that man in Florida who got on a roller coaster and the ride chopped his arms right off.

Perched on a rock wall watching nightfall sink heavily -- as a tired woman easing into a couch at the end of a long day -- into Lake Erie, it occured to me that there's much in life that can't be defined by someone else's experience.

Cedar Point is fun, yes, very fun, they were absolutely right, they were on the money, I'd have wanted to do this a long time ago if I'd had my wits about me at all. But there's also lots else I've accepted as read from other people's opinions without trying them out for myself first.

"There's so much of the world yet I haven't seen," I said, as my friends looked at me curiously. There were no words to describe what it is I really wanted to say. How young I felt, and how attentive, and how perfectly at peace. Living is seeing, I realized. It's the not-seeing that is dying. Keep looking, pay attention, have a fresh perspective; then there are no endings. This was what Dylan Thomas meant: rage, rage against the dying of the light.

As I smiled to myself and went on watching the water and the sky, how it can blur into one; the kind of horizon that makes birds want to swim, and persuades the mermaids to believe they can fly.