One day my husband Brian and I ran all the way to the park to play in the rain. It was warm and chilly at the same time, and the tree bark was saturated with brown. Like dark rows of velvet and green leaves that made Harlem look almost tropical. Every time you see beauty like that it hits you right in that spot of the throat where lumps form. But I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting as we raced up the steps to the grassy clearing was the mud.
Patches of earth that were perfectly respectable just a few hours earlier had now turned into goopy, squishy, manure-colored ponds. And I was wearing my new (near-white) sneakers. So I hesitated. Or at least I think I hesitated, but it’s hard to say because before I could even catch my breath from all that stair hopping, I was flying backward into the mud.
Sploosh! It was cold, and it spit all over my face as I sunk into it. I tasted soil. I saw a flash of white sky and then Brian lying on top of me laughing, laughing, laughing.
I never did salvage those sneakers. And after several months of keeping them just outside the door (telling myself I’d have them cleaned), I finally let them go. I don’t think it hurt their feelings. They had been on an adventure of a sneaker life-time, and it was worth it. And despite the cold, the squishiness, the general grossness of it all, that hour of splashing, dunking, and dancing in the mud with my husband was well worth it too.
Today I got some disappointing news, and I felt very sad and tiny. Like Alice after she eats the shrinking mushroom and can’t reach the key to unlock the door to the magical garden. After some solitary moping, I called Brian, and he listened to me mope some more. Then soon after we hung up he sent me this email:
“Ami, [that’s what we call each other]
I was just thinking about something… we have these little let downs in our lives, these disappointing events that feel like mud. But then you look at our successes, our victories and the smiles we create around us and we see the building blocks of who we are and who we want to be. Bricks. And these bricks build and build to create the world around us. Ami, my first instinct when I got off of the phone with you was to call everyone we know and have them call you and cheer you up. Every time Letia would have a disappointing day or event Matt would call em immediately to cheer her up. And as I began to draft the email calling the troops to heal you I realized something beautiful. That mud you feel when you are down or have been let down… well, what do you think holds all of those building blocks, those bricks that are everything good and strong within you, together? We need these moments like we need air and sunshine.”
As soon as I read those words, I felt the sadness getting soft and cozy inside me. I didn’t feel less sad, but I felt comfortable with my sadness. I let myself sink into the mud, look up at the cold, empty sky and smile.
So what if my sneakers get dirty? So what if I shiver in the cold? So what if I get mud in my mouth so it looks like I’m missing a tooth? Later on, when I’m good and ready, I will peel off my clothes and soak in a hot shower. And I will remember the mud with the truest of smiles even when I’m warm and clean.