I was sitting in my favorite patio chair with eyes closed and feet up on a perfect summer evening—the heat of the previous weeks had broken, and the air felt almost autumnal. Three days of monsoon weather had given us more than an inch of rain, and now the breeze, gentle and blessedly cool, set the fragrances of moisture and catmint spinning.
My enjoyment of the evening had rather an ironic tinge to it. More than most other evenings, I was sitting in my patio chair primarily because movement was a burden. I'm only ever one step ahead of the sick exhaustion of CFS at best, and now it had caught up to me and was exacting its price. In such a case, the wise course of action is to pay up; otherwise, tomorrow's price will be that much steeper. The coinage is always (still more) inaction, and I, who have never dealt with boredom well, resented being forced once again to sit still and do nothing. And yet, it was a lovely evening to be stuck in a patio chair.
At least over the years I've learned the forms of good grace. With my eyes closed, I found myself immersed in the soundtrack of summer, and began to enjoy the familiar, (mostly) soothing sounds of the urban outdoors:
- The white noise of I-40 in the middle distance
- The rhythmic clatter of a neighbor's swamp cooler (which has an impressive resistance to servicing)
- The different sounds the wind makes, first rattling in another neighbor's aspens, and then rustling in my desert olives
- The cheerful, no-nonsense chirping of house-finches
- The odd counterpoint provided by a grackle, which is apparently understudying a combination rusted gate/whistling teakettle role (hey—an opportunity could arise any day)
- A group of boys dribbling a basketball on their way to shoot hoops in the neighborhood park
- A rustling from somewhere in the yarrow that I devoutly hope is Mr. Jackson the toad
- The drone of an airplane, and charmingly, at the same time, of a hummingbird
- The ice cream truck, which tonight is playing Brahms's Lullaby at a volume to wake the dead
- My project-y neighbor briefly using a hammer
- The insistent "chip" of a Western kingbird, and the sudden, almost ultrasonic cries of nestlings
- The jingle of tags on the collar of still another neighbor's dog
- The buzz of a late honeybee, making a nice segue to the thrum of cicadas and later the chirping of crickets
And it's beautiful. I can't minimize that—it would be like being offered manna from heaven and then complaining because it's vanilla manna and I was hoping for chocolate manna, all the while overlooking the fact that any manna at all is pretty darn astonishing.
But are these small things enough to compensate for the losses? For the incapacity to be the active, social, spontaneous person I once was?
A silly question—for the obvious reasons, in a way. But in another way, because it's hard to say what's really a small thing. As a high school drama teacher used to say many years ago, there are no small parts; there are only small actors. And the part of me that is very like those cheerful, no-nonsense finches says that it's silly in yet another way, because you can only hoe the row that's in front of you (at least, without doing serious damage to your back), and to list the pros and cons of past and present rows, and to wonder which row would have been best had some other circumstances not arisen, and to bring some hypothetical future rows into the debate while we're at it and discuss the putative merits and demerits of each, is a good way not to get any rows hoed at all.
A long, tall glass of ice water is perched on the wide arm of my Adirondack chair. I reach to take a sip and realize that the glass is half—what? Full or empty? Another silly question.
Because it's so obviously both.