“Here sitting on the world, she thought, for she could not shake herself free from the sense that everything this morning was happening for the first time, perhaps for the last time, as a traveler, even though he is half asleep, knows, looking out of the train window, that he must look now, for he will never see that town, or that mule-cart, or that woman at work in the fields, again.” –To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
You’ve been living in a tent on the top of a hill in Cape Cod for over two months now. Patches of black mildew blossom in the humidity. Tent freckles, you think to yourself, as you run your finger over them. It is almost time to leave again. Almost.
The summer passed you by in the strangest way. Sometimes it feels like you weren’t even there, like you were a passenger on a train watching the scenery flash by—families rotating in and out, cabin doors slamming shut in their wake—but then there are moments, moments when the window opens and the breeze smells of wildflowers—when a kid hits a bullseye and his mouth falls open in wonderment, when a camper sings boldly into a microphone with the backing of a live guitar—and in that moment you feel present, grounded, like the world is real and you belong, and you’re doing something important, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
You want to write something big and meaningful about this summer, about illness and death and human connection, but you feel smaller than normal and words don’t come easily.
Here’s what you can capture, still lifes from the train window:
Some nights you’d make tea and sit behind your mildew-freckled tent and listen to the sounds of the highway while looking up at the stars. You went to Provincetown by yourself and listened to a podcast about the Manson Family as the road narrowed and the traffic swelled, and it felt safe and warm to be alone again in an unknown city, and it made you happy to know that you could be with someone and still belong fiercely to yourself. You found a tree frog in the toilet stall and marveled that a life of tree frogs and shower spiders was now yours.
This has been a summer about empathy. About listening and learning and finding gratitude in every shadow, every narrow beam of light.
Families welcome you into their lives for a week, sharing stories of g-tubes and surgeries and stubborn doctors, and you take whatever they give you, whatever morsel of their lives they are willing to put into your hands. You are a passenger along for the ride. You are just passing through.