I was splashing, spinning in spiraling circles, watching the waves appear and feeling the pulse of the water around me. The mud underneath my feet crawled in between my toes, and sunk slightly the longer I kept myself planted, looking out into the blue skies of Carolina. The summer sun beat down on my freckled cheeks and I ignored my mother’s calling to come in for a ham and cheese sandwich and another round of sunscreen.
I ignored her, smug with my 13-year-old confidence, sure I knew everything, sure I didn’t need another layer to protect me from this August day. Instead, I’d spend my time here in this lake, dreaming about all the good stuff.
About that faithful day when I would ditch my cutoff jeans and messy braids for a more sophisticated lifestyle. About the time when I would pack my bags just as soon as I grabbed that degree, and head to that city I loved so much. The good stuff would be when I landed somewhere on that island, whose pictures decorated every room I’ve ever had, that island where dreams, magazines and handsome boys are made of. Where that good stuff is — those things and people and experiences and adventures I could picture in my head while laying underneath the endless web of stars or in that Georgia clay mud, wondering when I’d ever get there. When my words would be available for the world to read, when I’d write more than teen advice columns for the local paper, when I’d make a name for myself in that glistening, beautiful and unforgiving city. That’s where all the good stuff was, if I could just make it happen.
The good stuff was out there waiting and I was stuck in its anticipation, too young to have it, too bold to forget it.
I had similar thoughts this past week, as I found myself in the same place, looking at the same view, feeling miles away and like nothing had changed all at the same time. Except now, I trade ham and cheese for a rum and a coke, and I carefully reapply sunscreen, wanting less-leather like skin as I age, instead of working on my temporary tan. I didn’t flail around or spend every second submerged until I was pruny. Instead, I sprawled out on a float we’ve had for ten years, planted my sunglasses and let myself float.
And though I’m nearly 12 years older, and I do in fact have an address in the city where the good stuff is — I found myself staring up at the blue and white, daydreaming about the better stuff. The great stuff I haven’t had yet.
Like a man who needs no prodding or reminder to be captivated by me. Or one that is more of a possibility, and less emotionally unavailable. Or at least one that I can stand past a handful of dates. I thought about the good stuff out there, somewhere — like an apartment all on my own with the pup, where I can come and go as I please, do as I feel and never have to keep up a cleaning schedule or figure out who owes me what for electricity. The good stuff where I don’t have to look at the prices on the menu before I look at ingredients, or when I can invest in a wardrobe that is more about quality than quantity. The good stuff where my bylines appear in publications I highly admire, the good stuff when I figure out what exactly I want to do with my life and which way I want to go. The good stuff where travel is less of something to work toward and more something I do because the mood strikes and the money magically appears. The good stuff where I put on a white dress and feel that sense of peace, and yes, thrill, that there actually is someone out there worth waiting for. And dating to find. The good stuff where that smiling, cooing baby on the train is mine.
I have found such good stuff in my life, things that I wouldn’t trade, but more often than not, I find myself continuously forgetting how good it really is.
Until I look away from the sky and into what’s happening – my parents, married 28 years and dancing without any music at all on the boat, with chipped paint. And a motor that doesn’t always work. Or running through a country trail with my 50-something mother who is trying her best to keep up with me and we run straight through a pack of young, beautiful deer that stare right at us before leaping away. Or while fishing with my father, who wants nothing more than to spend time with me, a rainbow stretches the length of the lake, reminding me to never give up on that precious little thing called hope. Or watching my dog overcome her fear of water and jump into the lake, freeing herself from her city roots and embracing parts of nature she’s never seen. Or when I see a dear friend I haven’t actually spoken to in years strikes up conversation and we pick up right where we left off. Or sitting in my childhood bedroom of the lake house, remembering the first kisses, the first encounters, the first sips of terribly sweet wine coolers, I first discovered in this place.
There might always be better things ahead of us than before us. There might be moments and days to come that we can never prepare for, never wish hard enough for to create. There might be stuff that seems so incredible we can’t wait to see it or feel it or touch it or make it real. But if you’re always looking for what’s better, if you’re always searching for what’s next or what will be or could be or should be, you’ll lose what you’re supposed to be enjoying.
You’ll miss out on all the good stuff.
Because the good stuff happens every second of every day in surprising and ordinary ways. And you can only really savor it if you stop looking ahead, and start looking around you. Start realizing when all the good stuff you’re looking for is already pretty great. And more importantly, already happening.