I'm writing on the sand at Ocean Beach in the heavy late afternoon heat of July. I tried to read but was distracted by the phone conversation of a girl lying next to me. (Disclaimer: she was right next to me, so it wasn't reeaallyy like eavesdropping.) It took me a while to figure out she was talking to her mom. The conversation ranged while her hair gusted wild around her face, eyes intent on an image beyond the waves.
At one point, I realized her dad had died. She talked about missing him, missing the way she could call him up, missing the way he could fix anything. "Why couldn't you have had me ten years earlier?" she asked her mom. "Then he'd still be around for me to call and ask for help." She laughed as she said this—no condemnation, just an invitation to open shared memories. Their conversation shifted again and again as I caught fragments of it over the wind. Like this one: "There are all these atrocities going on in the world, and I'm here on the beach, with a job, talking to my loving mother."
Three days ago, a U.S. airstrike killed over 60 people—women and children mostly. I opened Twitter and one of the first things I saw was a photo of a dead little boy. He was lifted in someone's arms, his head rolling back, covered completely in the gray dust of decimated concrete and desert. It was heartbreaking, of course it was, what else can you say? The image reminded me of that photo no one can forget from last fall—a tiny refugee boy's body washed onto the sand. What a strange age we live in, to see the faces of victims half a world a way on our computer screens. To carry the heaviness of sorrow as we sit on a beach and watch kids splash each other with salty foam. It seems like the only thing to do when the whole world's sorrow is so visible is to mourn with those who mourn. The mourning doesn't need to be publicized, seen, or spoken aloud, but we should mourn.
And, rejoice. That's the other half: "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." So after the girl on the phone leaves the beach, I go for a run along the cliffs. OB and Sunset Cliffs is my favorite place to run in San Diego. Everything is bright and overgrown and ripe and pungent. There's always star jasmine and bougainvillea growing and an odd bunch of characters for people watching. It's the best.
Honestly, I don't feel like running. The city's in a heat spell and my feet are like fat little sausages straining against their casings (you bet I'm going to be a happy pregnant lady). At one point I stop to stretch where a crowd has gathered. They are watching cliff jumpers—a crowd of teenagers egging each other on and leaping off the rocks into dives or flips, screaming the whole way down. I am one of a dozen strangers watching the scene. Suddenly the crowd parts: an old man in red trunks and a red hat is speeding toward the cliff's edge on his bike. In a split second everyone absorbs what is happening and the screams crest as he flies off the edge, off his bike which is attached to his leg with a surfboard leash, and crashes into the swell of water. He surfaces with his fist raised to applause. Along with the dozen strangers, I am laughing and cheering him on too.
Sometimes it takes an old man riding off a cliff to wake us up to the possibilities a day contains.
Before the girl at the beach hung up, after her rambling and unforced and familiar conversation—just two voices connected by laughter and secrets and history and womanhood—they said goodbye. "I gotta go. I love you, Mama." I recognized exactly the mother-daughter, female-friendship intimacy in her tone. It made me thankful to have heard the conversation, and thankful for the relationship they shared.
A girl on the phone with her mom. A little boy dead from air strikes. A run along the ocean. An old man riding through a crowd of teenagers on his bike, meeting the frothing waves below. A day containing delight and surprise and sadness. Rejoicing and mourning. It's always both, and.