On a Sunday Afternoon by the Water

We sit in a patch of splattered shade afforded by a maple tree. It’s scrawny shade as far as maples go, but we’re forty feet from East Bay, and the trees are routinely beaten up by the salty off-shore breezes and hostile winters. The maple tree is fighting for its life, so I don’t begrudge its meager offering. Every once in a while the bay sends in a gust of mercy, a water-cooled refreshment.

Folks of all ages and ethnicities surround us, enjoying their afternoon encampments around picnic tables and charcoal grills. Some, like us, have only coolers containing a sandwich and a cold drink, and a plan for supper when we get home after dark. I like to keep days like this simple, and a charcoal grill means I can’t leave until its dying embers permit it. Being held captive by fire while in repose by the ocean seems like a conflict. I am probably more restless than most, though. When it’s time to go, that’s it.

Closer to the water and to our left is a gathering of two families. The patriarchs sit at a small game table and play Backgammon. One smokes a hookah, and the tobacco smoke is sweet, not acrid and harsh like cigarette smoke. Their low voices are congenial and foreign. I hope they have no family suffering in Syria or another war-torn country. The women, heads covered and in long sleeves, sit in a loosely formed circle, chatting among themselves and paying little attention (in a most familiar way) to their dice-tossing husbands.

The young woman who took some time to roll out a prayer rug and offer her afternoon devotion finishes her prayers, then stands, and rolls up her rug. She slips out of her skirt with the same softened intimacy the wives and husbands share. At first, I am drawn in by surprise as I watch the young woman slip out of her skirt in public. Old fashioned hell-fire lessons so many love to proclaim leap to mind, but I disallow them, while at the same time, I sigh with relief as I spot the black leggings being revealed by her public disrobement. This will happen two more times, with two more women, and my voyeurism has taught me a lesson about ritual and respect.

It is a joy to see people at peace with themselves and their object of spiritual devotion. How free she is under her headscarf. May the love of their Creator shine down on these beautiful families.

I awaken from my unintended nap to see that the couple who were situated not far from us, to the right, are packing their things. Her knitting had been on her lap when we arrived, and she clicked her needles, winding yarn and beauty, to the accompaniment of her husband’s guitar playing. He played so softly it seemed like he was a mime. I didn’t hear a single note, no matter how hard I listened.

Some folks draw it all, and the woman behind us has been bothered by an errant soccer ball, once hit in the arm, a painful encounter by any measure. Apologies were sincere, but she her husband spewed forth with vulgarities, and I remember that we cannot choose another’s path. She had just been hit for a third time, and the peace has officially broken. A loud argument stopped just short of a female fist-to-cuff. Fortunately sensibility prevailed, and the ball players have removed themselves from the proximity.
TT had been enjoying a nap when the broo-ha-ha began and the look on his face as he was startled back to wakefulness was so funny I had to suppress a laugh. I wonder if he had heard the group across the field singing Happy Birthday to a child, and I wonder why it never occurred to me to celebrate JT’s dog-day August birthdays with her by the cooling bay.

It took all this to get to where I wanted to go, which was to write a blessing for my daughter and her new husband to be offered at their wedding reception six days hence. Finally the words flowed, here by the water, and surrounded by humanity, both peaceful and strained, and on a joyous Saturday evening, I shared those words with them among witnesses. I would love to share them with you, but I gave them away to the happy couple.

May they have a long and joyful life together.

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