“Sit down, Amanda!”
“Girl, I just need you to breathe.”
“Just relax, Amanda.”
“Can you just be still—just for one minute?”
“I don’t know anyone who seizes the day better than you.”
The above comprise a sampling of the collection of demands, advice, comfort, pleas, and compliments I’ve accrued over the decades in response to my compulsive freneticism and obsessive productivity. “Never put off until tomorrow what can be done today” and “If it’s not early, it’s late” are mottoes I’ve lived by—quite successfully—for the last two decades. Each day, I see twenty-four hours laid out before me as a grid, over which I can maneuver the various tasks on my to-do list like the pieces of a giant puzzle, time management a twisted game of chess that provides me with both a comforting sense of control and an irksome sense of urgency. And while I may be something of a master of time management, I am not at all proficient at the art of slowing down, a skill far too threatening to my compulsion for the complete maximization of every moment—never mind that a moment might require just a little lull in my labors. I thrive on routine. I love the expected, the predictable. This summer, though, I experienced a moment that, for once, allowed me to let go—to let the moment carry me, instead of feeling compelled to constrain it to my own sense of its potential, its purpose, and ultimately, its worth.
It was early August, my brother’s birthday, and he had come down from New York to the Northern Neck of Virginia, where our parents own a second home, to celebrate with our family and a couple of his friends. There were eight of us on my parents’ speedboat—my brother, his two friends, my parents, my husband, my three-year-old niece, and me. The boat bobbed in the sparkling water of the Potomac River. I sat in the bow of the boat, my niece on my lap, our sweat mingling while we waited in the stagnant summer air for the boat to skim across the skin of the water once more, bouncing over the waves. The breeze born of speed would provide some welcomed relief from the heat, whisking the summer sun’s warmth from our shoulders, backs, and faces.
As my brother and his friends worked to untangle ski ropes and prepare the tube for rides behind the boat, its motor sputtered and gurgled, impatient in its idling. As impatient as the motor behind us, I rested my chin gently on the top of my niece’s head, her soft hair tickling my neck, and stared over the edge of the boat, down into the rolling water, listening to the dull, hollow music it made as it bumped against the hull. Suddenly, a glimpse of gold broke the monotony of blue water against white boat, and the river took on a new dimension–a whole other world, apart from time. Flying in slow motion under the boat appeared a swarm, silent and gentle, of copper colored rays, their wing-like fins rippling just below the surface. In that moment, time stopped. Nothing else in the world moved, just these graceful, gliding creatures. I tried to alert everyone else, to point out the spectacle—to share the moment. “Look!”—Stop. Be still. Be silent. Words I was so accustomed to everyone else always saying to me, but I was afraid any sound from my world would scare the rays away, shatter their stillness, ruin the moment—shake it violently back into chronology, into the measured, fleeting time of my world. Time that waits for no man. Time that wastes if not used before it expires. Irrecoverable time. Limited time. Use-it-or-lose-it time.
“Marie,” I whispered in my niece’s ear. “Look down there. Do you see them?”
She shook herself free from her sweaty stupor and, pressing her chin into her chest to look down over the boat’s edge, she nodded.
“They’re orange!” she cried, laughing, suddenly awake and aware, revived by the moment.
At Marie’s exclamation, everyone else on the boat looked down into the water and marveled at the school of rays drifting by, seemingly in slow motion. Undisturbed. Unaware of their effect on us.
And then, that eternal moment, that glimpse of heaven, of miracle, of harmony, passed into real time again as the boat’s motor, no longer frustrated by inaction, roared to life, and one of the rays breached the water’s skin, startled out of his otherworldly realm by the rumble. We sped away, slitting the water’s blue waves with a trail of white, foamy wake, propelled forever forward.
We darted over dozens of pockets of rays that day, the sun glinting off their wings like so many pennies at the bottom of a fountain. We have been visiting the Northern Neck for well over a decade, and never had we seen a single ray—much less schools of them. Had they been there all along? Had we somehow been missing them, oblivious? Caught up in our own endeavors and adventures and priorities? Even on this day, dazzled as we were by our initial encounter with the rays, it was the only one we stopped for, our boat continuing its course—like time, unstoppable—slicing through the water with its arrow-like nose, sending the rays down down down to escape the sound, the speed.
Our lives are made up of millions and millions of moments—most of which we never stop for, most of which we will forget, our memories’ main concern clinging to the most monumental moments—the milestones. The firsts and lasts. The weddings, births, and graduations. The superlatives of our lives. So why is this moment, this single, short-lived moment on a boat in the middle of the river on a summer day like any other summer day, so significant? Why does it rank up there with so many other happy moments that could so easily eclipse it? Because in that miniscule moment on that boat with my niece on my lap and my brother home from New York and the sun beating down on our browned skin, the rays gave me a second of stillness so foreign to my everyday experience that sometimes, when it gently surfaces in thought and breaches the turbulent waters of my frenzied sensibilities, I can momentarily reclaim that sense of awe. The sense that I am somehow at once infinitesimal in and integral to the universe, the sense of being completely linked not to time, but to the creatures and the people and the place sharing with me this one moment in time. That moment was unity. That moment was peace. That moment was simultaneously perpetual and ephemeral. That moment with the rays gave me a reason to pause, gifted me with an acute awareness of the slosh of water against the boat, the light brushing of my niece’s hair against my hot skin, the summery smell of sunscreen and salt water, and the stale smell of mildewy life jackets that hadn’t quite dried out the day before. However temporal, that moment was a foretaste of forever, a hint of heaven. In that moment, I felt neither pushed into the past nor forced into the future. I simply was. Right there, right then. It was spiritual and transcendental. I was present. I was alive. I was one. I was happy. And when I am at my most frantic, and someone tells me to sit down, slow down, relax—I remember the rays, and I am present. I am alive. I am one. I am happy.
Amanda Sue Creasey is a high school English teacher and freelance writer. She holds a graduate degree in creative writing from the University of Denver and an undergraduate degree in German from Michigan State University. Currently, she relishes a novel-writing class at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, as well as her new roles as chair of the VOWA Collegiate Writing and Photography Contest and board member for the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association. She is also a member of the James River Writers and the Poetry Society of Virginia. An avid dog lover, she is a regular contributor at ScoutKnows.com. Aside from writing, she loves to walk and hike with her dogs, run, read, and spend as much time outside as she can. She lives in central Virginia with her husband and two dogs, and can be found online at AmandaSueCreasey.com, where she maintains Mind the Dog Writing Blog.