He used one hand on my hip to gently and silently push me aside, and proceeded to lift the long paddleboard from its place in the shade down into the water without so much as an exaggerated exhale in his efforts. As he held the center of the board to keep it steady, I outstretched five nervous toes to hold it in place. This was the way he moved; in full trust that I’d pick up and understand his nonverbal cues, saving him the labor of words, and in my time work succinctly with his every move.
With my board in my possession, he walked back to grab his own, sliding the longer, thinner wooden paddleboard it into the water near mine and jumped on without hesitation.
I climbed on in tow, feeling slightly uneasy. The board wobbled side to side, lapping water on each side with a gentle slap sound until my feet found the right places to stand, and I could concentrate on the paddle. T trailed me, providing a sense of safety behind me as we exited the quiet bay and made our entrance into the wide-open lake.
Late morning, the water was still flat, reflecting the houses and trees and open sky with only a slight blur to obscure the almost mirror image of our surroundings. I felt a bit like I was gliding across the plane of reality in which existence could flip. As if the surface of the water was actually the precipice upon which everything inverted below me.
We paddled out toward the middle in close proximity to each other without a word, until he veered off toward the north side of the lake and I continued straight. Free of the eye of someone with more experience, I finally, brazenly tested my balance with swifter strokes and bent knees. I felt his eye return to me, and turned to find him snapping a picture. My face flush, and my mouth formed a timid smile; it was the first picture he’d ever taken of me.
Then a moment of stillness fell on us. A near completely quiet moment, save the cawing of a hawk somewhere above us, and a car passing the far road of the lake every few minutes. Except for these sounds, there was a calm. A strangely inviting hush, lulling me into itself. I looked at him, watching him sit quietly on his board about 20 feet away staring off into the distance, and felt an overwhelming urge to speak...
But for what? What could there possibly be to say? And why did I feel the need to say anything in this soft stillness?
I had nothing worth the breath and vibration of words. Not because there wasn’t things on my mind. Not for lack of questions for him; I longed to peer deep inside his brain, but he assured me that was a place I could only learn by seeing, that he couldn’t and wouldn’t use words to describe it. This, for me, was the opposite of how I knew to be known. I am a writer. I use words. I live for them. But with him, and his gentle but firm demeanor. His strong, square workman’s hands. His constantly furrowed brow and his infrequent smiles and the way he never laughed at his own jokes. For him, connection didn’t happen through words. We were opposite in that way. And, in retrospect, so many others ways.
So instead I stood on my board a moment, my oar propped up in the center, wondering what to say, if I should say anything at all. Wondering why I felt the desire to fill the space. Wondering how, from where I floated aimlessly to where he floated aimlessly, how to connect us. How to reach him. The bird cawed again. A car passed by. And the stillness hushed it all once more. A small ripple from my wobbling worked it’s way from my board to his without disturbing his peace. An energy might already be reverberating here, perhaps one more of his style than mine.
Such a fragile sense of peace was already being shared. And it couldn’t be explained anyway. I say fragile because within me still hungered a want to be seen, felt, electrified by his attention and mine back to him. To connect in a way that was familiar, even while I floated on one present in this moment.
And in this daze, still standing with my oar upright and my feet hip-distance, I noticed that this gnawing desire to connect to him left no space to connect to anything else: the water, the fresh air, the bird’s cry. I wasn’t present in this moment; I was three steps ahead, within in a feeling I’d manufactured by something I might say if only I knew what to say.
With this realization, my body softened and my nose perked up to smell the soft scent of fish, pine, gasoline from boats, and someone cooking bacon offshore somewhere. My skin raised at the breeze, and my feet felt hot on the black rubber of the board, sizzling in the sun.
“What” I heard my heart ask, “am I avoiding in the silence?”
The quiet grew the more I sunk into it. Closing my eyes, feeling it wrap around my entire body, blocking out the thoughts, the distractions, the scenery.
“What might be heard only in the silence that I am afraid to hear?...
…What am I trying to cover up with words?”
My mind went back to meditations in which the silence had become deafening. So loud and baritone that my heart thought it might explode at the beating of it, until finally a thought or fear or desire came bursting forth from some dark depth inside, having waited until there was nothing in the way of it and it could finally be heard. Till the very moment, it couldn’t be avoided.
What did this silence hold?
T paddled to the back of my board, nudging me again and breaking my moment of contemplation before any pertinent message could present itself. I called his name with a laugh, and told him to stop, which he answered with another nudge. He pivoted his board toward the house and, once again, I answered by steering myself back as well, following him silently as his diligent dance partner, the moment a song.
Weeks past and I returned to the bustle of LA, still feeling that stillness rippling like the soft lake currents through my veins. I still feel the silence, holding a vibration around me and waiting for me to listen. I don’t feel afraid. I don’t feel as though I need to go to a dark place to find whatever truth I’ve been avoiding. I feel only that I need to find enough quiet. That the quiet might be waiting, holding just the right amount of warmth to wrap me up in itself with all the reassurance of a favorite blanket. I feel only that I am willing to listen, whenever the message is ready to be received by me. I feel only calm. The breeze on my skin. The sun on my cheeks. The cool water in waves on my toes. The sense that, no matter how harsh or hard that message might make my life, it will be true, and it will be good, and it will bring me - eventually - only more peace.
Photography by Ashley Jo Photography