FORGET YOURSELF IN the dream of daily life, Tolstoy says, and forget myself, yes. To forget myself in the very process of being myself, I ask no better. Perhaps there is no gift more precious than the gift of spontaneity, the ability of certain men and animals to act straight and fresh and self-forgettingly out of the living center of who they are without the paralyzing intervention of self-awareness. But the dream of daily life, no. I have had enough for awhile of dreams. Certainly it is often dreamlike enough as you move from morning to evening with little sense of how you got from one to the other, as you move from conversation to conversation, living your life like the food you eat in dreams which neither tastes nor nourishes.
But I don't want to dream this day out. I want to live this day out. I want to live this day out as though it were the first day of my life because that is of course what it is.
Who knows whether there is life on any other planet anywhere else in the universe, but there is life on this planet. And what is life like? Think of not knowing what life is and then finding out: a book suddenly learning how to read; a rock jutting out into the sea suddenly knowing the thump and splatter of the waves, the taste of salt. You are alive. It needn't have been so. It wasn't so once, and it will not be so forever. But it is so now. And what is it like: to be alive in this maybe one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and be alive in it. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter. It is your birthday, and there are many presents to open. The world is to open.
It rattles softly at the window like the fingers of a child as I sit on the edge of the tub to tie my shoes. It comes down the glass in crooked paths to stir my heart absurdly as it always has, and dear God in Heaven, the sound of it on the roof, on the taut black silk of the umbrella, on the catalpa leaves, dimpling the glassy surface of the peepering pond. It is the rain, and it tastes of silver; it is the rain, and it smells of christening. The rain is falling on the morning of my first day, and everything is wet with it: wet earth, wet fur, the smell of the grass when it is wet, the smell of the wet pavements of the city and the sound of tires on the wet streets, the wet hair and face of a woman doing errands in the rain. Wherever my feet take me now, it will be to something wet, something new, that I have never seen before.
- Originally published in The Alphabet of Grace