“…the spray of their moment’s happiness is flung so high and dazzlingly over the wide sea of suffering, that the light of it, spreading its radiance, touches others too with its enchantment.” Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
Recently I saw an online ad for “LifeProof” iPhone covers. At first it struck me as clever. I could stand to lifeproof a lot of things around here. Like the living room carpet, which met with a tidal wave of milk at some point during The Cat in the Hat on PBS. Or the bathroom trashcan, whose delectable contents (a dirty diaper) proved irresistible to the dog at some point while I was out in the garden picking beans. She also got the kitchen trash, and used it to craft a diorama entitled “What the Earth Would Look Like If We Didn’t Have Landfills but Just Threw All Our Garbage on the Floor.”
I wonder what it would be like to be lifeproof. I imagine the lifeproof iPhone cover as a sort of neoprene suit of armor impervious to the contents of sippy cups. I imagine myself donning such a wetsuit in a classic “arming of the hero” scene:
The sun rises, its first rays casting the shadow of the valiant mommy behind her as she dons her Wetsuit of Power. She smiles one of those action-hero smiles that says, “I will vanquish this day without breaking a sweat or a nail.”
When I hear the word “zen,” I invariably think, “That’s what I should be.” I should be calm, serene, un-ruffle-able. But I’m not zen. I will always fail miserably at relinquishing desire. There is so much I want, and because there is so much I want, there is so much I will never achieve.
But there’s so much that I will experience, whether or not I “succeed” at any of it. Maybe I don’t want to be lifeproof. I don’t want a neoprene skin between me and the world. It sucks to hurt, but it would suck worse not to feel.
I don’t know if I’m making sense. I’m writing through a fog of exhaustion. I’ve got beans to can, a broody chicken who’s trying to hatch out half a dozen unfertilized eggs, a five-year-old insomniac, a dog who just ate a diaper, critiques to write for my crit. group, and a million other things to think about. Life feels overwhelming. I’ve plunged into the ocean without a wetsuit.
And I think this is how I want it to be. I want to feel the water, whether it’s warm or breathtakingly cold. I love the feeling of walking into the ocean, of floating in the same immenseness where soundless monsters glide.
When you walk out far enough and turn your back to the ocean, each passing swell obscures your view of land and for a moment, you exist in a world that is only water and sunlight. For a precious, terrifying, glorious instant, you are only a speck in the vastness, a warm spark of life in a cold eternity of blue. And if you give yourself over to fear and exultation, if you don’t tune them out or muscle past them, but really feel them, then in that moment you live. You live in a way that is wild and pure and free.
You can’t live this way if you’re too zen. You can’t live this way in a wetsuit. I feel like a basket-case a lot of the time, but it’s really interesting inside my basket. All the things that overwhelm me also make me think and feel. I met a truly wicked-looking caterpillar in the bean patch. I am shamed by the superior mothering instincts of a little white chicken who is hell-bent on kidnapping every last egg she can manage to sit on. The dog is dreaming on the sofa beside me, probably fantasizing about landfills. The same overactive mind that keeps my five-year-old up way too late will make his world eternally fascinating. And I get to read some awesome as-yet-unpublished YA fantasy. So life is good. It feels out of control much of the time, but it’s still good.
I don’t want to lifeproof myself. I want to plunge in headfirst, gasp at the cold, and then revel in the vastness of it all. I want life to dazzle us all, if only for a moment.