Joy and perfection

From my journal:

Malibu Beach Inn, Saturday, April 20, 1996

I am perfectly content for minutes at a time here. I sit in a shaded corner of our balcony and watch the sea break around rocks and darken the sand below me and am perfectly content.

I hear the clink of cups from the patio below and think I would be even more perfectly content if I had a cup of English Breakfast tea, hot but not scalding, not too strong, with a little bit of honey. So I go out the front door, which opens onto a view of cars speeding along Pacific Coast Highway and hills yellow-green with mustard, and down the stairs almost immediately to my right, which lead directly to the various bakery goods and beverages of the continental breakfast, available until eleven a.m. I feel a great fondness for this food because it is included in the price of the room (which my mother-in-law is paying), thereby alleviating some of my guilt at being here, at such an expensive hotel in such a beautiful place.

I make myself a cup of tea, hot but not scalding, not too strong, with a little bit of honey and bring it back upstairs.

Now I sit in a shaded corner of our balcony with my cup of tea and am perfectly content. There are flickering highlights on the rumpled surface of the blue-green sea and an array of scattered fishing boats and even, closer, a couple of people in kayaks. The tide is up but there is still a belt of empty sand between it and the crescent of beach houses.

My [first] husband comes out on the balcony in sweatpants, barefoot. “We have the only rocks,” he says. “They’re the only rocks up or down the beach.” I hadn’t noticed. “The rocks give more visual interest to the waves and the moss gives more visual interest to the rocks. Aren’t you cold?” He goes inside.

The sun is higher and the shade in my corner deeper. Maybe I am a little chilly. Maybe I would be even more perfectly content with a sweater. And now, because I have been writing, my tea is chilly too.

Why doesn’t joy last? Is it because things change–the sun moves, lowering the temperature and cooling the tea? Is it because perfection doesn’t last?

Or is it (at least partly) because some perfect things don’t change for long periods: the sky remains blue, the sea keeps swaying back and forth, in and out? We need perfect weather plus a cup of tea, a perfect scene plus (eventually) people paddling a kayak into it. If nothing happens, do we get bored with perfection? Is it our attention span that doesn’t last?

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About Jessica Renshaw

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