~summer shorts~ circle geometry

The circle of life encompasses all, yet sometimes seems to have a frustratingly small diameter. Walking towards the Chelsea Rose to buy some salmon, my eyes glanced at each plaque lining the bay front, those on the many benches donated in memoriam, as well as the tiles cemented into the sidewalk, defiant attempts at permanence in the face of so much that is fleeting. Many of these engraved names, these painfully abbreviated circumferences, are now familiar to me, not just from walking these blocks, but from hearing them spoken by the voices of many friends or family members i have come to know, who loved and lost the men bearing these names to the sea.

I watched the vividly coral-colored meat parting from the bones willingly and swiftly, the recently living swimmer who would nourish our bodies that night smothered in butter and fresh herbs, and I pondered the difficult geometry of mortality. A floating rectangle beneath me swayed gently, seagulls plunged past on arcs of summer breeze, snatching scraps washed from the working fishing boats docked on this bright monday. Diesel engines and fish processing plants of the town i call home laid a familiar background scent-scape i scarcely registered.

At the beach with my parents an hour earlier, i had picked up a tiny sand dollar, mostly intact, and handed it to my mom. She took a closer look before putting it into her pocket like humans since the beginning of time have known to do, as though bringing back essential minerals within the shell to sustain life ashore. As though. A circle of a shell, remnant of a living being. Its five petals radiating from the center reminded me of the vibrant five-petaled impatiens I had planted before mom’s visit, knowing she always saw their five petals as representing our five-person nuclear family. This floral impression etched in a now-vacant vessel. It crossed my mind how a sand dollar is a little bit reminiscent of the shape of a breast. Life-giving circle. Mostly intact. Flowers, shells, breasts, all fulfill their roles in nature, and yet all are so ephemeral.

Mom recalled visits to jones beach with aunt margie and uncle george, or to oyster bay. She also remembered going to rockaway beach with her mom and dad, “because you could get there by train.” “my earliest memories….” she trailed off, reliving the beaches of New York, where she was taken from the time she was no more than a year old.

Then i was the baby in the memory. “i remember standing in the ocean holding you when you were three months old and telling you, ‘this is a very special place.’ That the water felt cold on my toes but the air was clean and lovely to breathe, that the sound of the water and the birds was so beautiful. I never imagined you would end up living here and all the ocean-related things you would end up doing.”

Then nobody was a baby anymore and we were here, now, 70 and 41, farther around the circle than it seemed like we should be, but sitting side by side on a sunny, deserted beach on a monday gazing at the pacific ocean, its horizon a circle whose extent we could never hope to measure. But we have learned to trust that its diameter is  exactly the right length.

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