I am not the kind of person whom people would describe as light-hearted. Big-hearted? Yes. Funny? Yes. Light-hearted? No. Just ask the various family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, and taxi drivers who have tried in the past to gently suggest that I "lighten up" only to find the conversation suddenly veer off a cliff.
This lightness people talk about has always seemed mysterious and inaccessible, and I am continually bemused by the suggestion that you can just slip into a lighter state of being as casually as you might pull on pajamas. When they say "lighten up," they might as well be saying "You would be so great if you were simply someone completely different."
But something funny has been happening on this sabbatical. There have been these moments—fleeting but distinct and discernible—where I have finally, for the first time in a lifetime of heaviness, felt light. The weight on my shoulders that usually takes form as a tightness in my chest suddenly clears away, and I am able to simply be. These are moments free of expectation, regret, worry, longing, fatigue, fear, doubt, indecision. And they are blissful.
The first time I felt it was during my first surf lesson and then again during the second one. I thought maybe it was only possible for me to feel that way in the ocean, which led to a lot of scheming about how I might stay permanently embedded there. But this weekend, it happened again—and the catalyst was soil not the sea.
We were visiting Amy's friend Jodi at her new house, where she had inherited a garden filled with edible delights—several varieties of arugula, a pomegranate tree (two actually), an apple tree, a lemon tree, bunches of chard, tiny Mexican gherkins that look like miniature watermelons. And a big raised bed filled with rich soil and fibrous stems that Jodi seemed confident were attached to potatoes. She dug up a few gold and purple ones to show me and then asked if I'd like to do the digging. We continued to talk for a while, and all that while, I was up to my elbows in the soil, rooting around for tuberous treasures. Without thinking, I managed to find about 50 small potatoes. Small potatoes, but a big deal—because when we finally packed up to leave, I noticed a vast, delicious emptiness inside of me. In place of my lungs, there was a cathedral—airy and magnificent, soaring and soulful.
It felt so good I hesitated to wash my hands, to rinse away the magical dirt and invite the layers of worry to return. I held on to the lightness for as long as I could, but it slipped away just as we pulled up outside our house, as thoughts of what to make for dinner—mashed potatoes?!—invaded.
Now, I want to be a potato farmer or a creature of the sea. But barring that, I am on the lookout for my next opportunity to lighten up.