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AS GOOD AS IT GETS
September 4, 2011
 
As Good As It Gets

The sun was already low in the west when we reached the restaurant and were shown to our table beside the marina.  The water was  darkening,  not yet silvered by a rising moon, and the boats were already crowded into the row of slips, the gentlest of wavelets lapping at their white hulls.  

By and large, recreational craft of this kind are not lovely: despite their unbelievable  price tags and the best efforts of their designers, the sleekest of them are still chunky and tall, oversized, lacking both the gravitas of the immense merchant vessels I frequented  in my waterfront years and the sleekness of sailboats.  These are not the Cutty Sark.  Powered by their noisy engines, they plow rather than glide through the water.   But as dusk fell and their lights flickered on, boat by boat, softening their refrigerator-like silhouettes, they made the harbor a fairyland in the dark.  

I was tucking into my annual steamed lobster.   His stalked ruby eyes regarded me with a look of betrayal, it seemed to me, as I cracked open his tail to expose the succulent white flesh within,  but I know that cannot really have been the case:  his crustacean soul was already  with Jesus, and had been for at least half an hour before we met.  No more harm could come to him, while a significant pleasure awaited me.  

The talk was alternately funny and serious, the company intelligent and dear.    The three of us shared a piece of key lime pie for dessert, smooth and sweet-tart.   I looked around and remembered a friend, who recounted a moment by the water on a summer evening such as this.   This  is as good as it gets, he said to himself, and remembered that thought in that moment, remembered it years later.   

Is this as good as it gets, I wondered?   Not every good thing in life was present -- my beloved was not with me, for instance.   Quotidian worries waited in the wings -- would there be another storm?  Would the roof leak?  Had I run out of my beta blocker, with the drug store closed until Tuesday?  And how much would it matter if I had?  

But yes, I thought, this is as good as it gets.   Every luminous  moment has worries waiting  in the wings, as every dark one is fringed with the absent pleasures against whose gorgeous ghostly outlines it stands out, visible only because of them.  Sometimes beauty can only be felt in its own absence.  Sometimes love can only be experienced as longing.   It is what it is, my friend used to say,  and it is not what it is not.  Every moment is as good as that moment can get.  And what is life, but a string of them?

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                 The  Lay of the Land
 
 Take time to measure the lay of the land
a voice said to him whose life’s work
with the sick and dying had been oblivious
to the world outside those windowless rooms
where  nothing could be left behind each day
except what could be kept in memory.
 
So he took walks and tried to love the earth
while slowly hating its desecrations.
On the bay the gulls dipped down like addicts,
then rose like angels in the evening air.
The moon on the other side of  his world
 was busy influencing happiness and crime.
 
On the beach the sand castles built by children
looked fragile—the tide would have them soon.
As he walked,  the great blue heron lost  its grandeur.
That old daystar, the sun, turned elsewhere.
 It seemed the wind did not discriminate
 between the live oaks and loblolly pines.
 
Those pines now sway in a serious wind
and  clouds move above like white pleasure boats.
Outside his office a breeze comes  up, a wind
he feels will roam the earth as long as it can.
The lay of the land has convinced him
that moments are what we have, nothing more.
                             -- Henry Langhorne
                                 
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 Perhaps you'd like to see the Cutty Sark:  under sail,  in a photograph taken sometime in the 1880s:   http://www.hnsa.org/ships/cuttysark.htm

And  lovingly re-constructed in miniature by Joe Bonpensiero, assisted by John Sauvajot.   This model lives at the maritime museum in  San Diego:  http://www.sdmaritime.org/new-acquisitions-2/

Now THAT'S a beautiful ship.
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