Night Slips Gently

The day’s events parade across the streets of my mind as sun slips behind trees; the day is coming to an end. On a ticket in the kitchen of the restaurant where I sit is my order for glazed salmon. I am wrapping up a day that has been spent mostly alone, away from home. I’m midway through my return home now, watching out the restaurant window as the curtain falls on a day I have fully savored.

This morning I was in my own kitchen, sandwiching turkey bacon between paper towels in the microwave, eggs in the fry pan: a bait to lure sleepy children from their beds because today, while I drove west down Interstate 10, they’d be starting a full day of standardized testing at school. They’d need a good breakfast, if not a little motivation. And with full tummies, they’d leave for school, taking packed lunches and the family frenzy with them, leaving behind a quiet house.

I am a glutton for quiet. It’s an appetite I can’t satisfy. My home, my calendar, my work are all loud and demanding and busy. The solitude and silence I crave is vital to fueling this mother of four to run at the breakneck pace that is our daily schedule. But “meals” of this sort are rare. And though the prompt for this day spent hours from home was an out-of-town funeral for my dear friend’s father, I was keenly aware from the beginning that it also would be a personal grace for me, a food that would nourish my soul.

So after the funeral, I purposely detoured my path home. I drove Highway 98 along the Florida shore, splitting Okaloosa Island down its middle. I stopped to drink coffee on a shady porch under humming fans while the dwindling, post-spring break traffic whirred by, the shoreline just a block away. I wandered into outlet stores, realizing as I did that I wasn’t in the mood for shopping or buying. But I was high on the thrill of being free to do whatever I wanted, without the fetters of anyone else’s agenda or design on the day.

I finally hit a store that captured my interest, intensified by the thought that I’d like to sit on the beach and could use a casual outfit to replace the dress slacks and blouse I was still wearing from the funeral. So I ended up buying after all: Capri’s and a soft, smocked linen shirt, perfect for the drive home or a spell of beach sitting. I’d change into them in a public restroom before finding a public beach access.

The Gulf of Mexico looked wild today, its waves a boisterous foaming at the edges of white, glistening beach. The sand, dry and warm from the afternoon sun, was pliant and welcoming. I lay in it, hands clasped behind my head, knuckles sinking into its granular kernels like a spoon in sugar.

I’d wished for an unspoiled beach, noisy with birds and wind and the crashing of waves, but I’d acquiesce to sharing it with human neighbors whose human noises spoiled my plan. They gathered around beach chairs twenty feet away. Their language was rough and uncreative, and I found myself wishing they knew more adjectives, ones that didn’t start with the letter F. I plugged my ears with my thumbs and pretended I was alone. The sun sank into my skin like warm oil, a healing balm.

I’d fight my inner Pharisee, laying in that lovely sand. In my mind I’d make these raucous beach goers insignificant: they were foolish, burning with base pleasures and shallow prattle, ignoring the breathtaking glory of sky and water that glistened before their dim eyes. Why should they intrude on this hallowed moment like graffiti? Love and grace, Kim Houghton, I’d chasten myself. They’re God’s creatures too, imperfect like you, in need of much grace, like you. I packed the Pharisee away and took a picture of the water before getting into the driver’s seat of my car.

I drove east, and listened to my favorite preachers talk about Sabbath and gospel rest, about human imperfection and grace. And an hour or so down the road, I stopped to eat dinner, having ducked into a drug store for a pad of paper and pen, a Sharpie pen with an extra fine line. I sat alone at a table for two, engrossed in the twilight parade of moments that had made this day a meal of quiet sustenance.

The cap of my Sharpie pen made a crisp pop as I removed it to write, to capture this day on paper, to help my forgetful brain remember: my friend buried her father, and I was honored to sit through his funeral, reflecting on the footprint he’d left from all his years of life and loving, his love of traveling the world to see God’s creation. We’d celebrated the significance of his life, his faith, his fatherhood and grand-fatherhood. It had been a joy to sit with my friend after the funeral, surrounded by her family and childhood friends. We’d eaten ham and green beans and congealed salad prepared by grey-headed ladies in a church hall that smelled like food, Lysol and diapers. And the childhood friends had told stories of school-days mischief. It was a fine transition from funeral to this meandering slowly home. I’d drunk deeply the freedom of the road, the brilliant, jewel-like Florida coastline and the significance of a man’s life. And the grace of it all fell sweetly, like the night slipping gently over day.

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