Two weeks ago, I returned from a seven-day trip to Charleston with my mother and her sister, the famous Aunt Gangster Gail.
On this annual trip southward, I am the event planner, chauffeur, schlepper, and general go-to companions for adults age 70 and older.
Keeping the show in the road is a small price to pay for family stories whose details I can now repeat verbatim. The three of us laugh, indulge in far too many desserts, and create memories that I’ll share with the next generations.
Prior to our voyage, we set our agenda for each day in the Holy City: site-seeing, play-watching, tour-going. When the ladies need rest, I walk the streets alone, a lifelong habit I cultivated growing up in a small town.
Charleston’s bumpy paths yield nooks and crannies that aren’t visible from a vehicle seat. As a stroll, I wonder at the lives behind the handmade gates and protection doors. I imagine the secrets, ambition, and loss. It’s a curiosity that leaves me simultaneously creative and lonely.
Like New York and San Francisco, Charleston is a place that lures creatives. She charms us with the rush we yearn for and we inhale her gifts of energy as long as we can.
But, like any tourist destination, if you take too much, she’ll crush you. You will either cross back over the Cooper River feeling triumph or defeat, in realization of just how powerful or how very small you are.
In years past, my city-dreaming walks have had a purpose. My feet have always kept the rhythm of a prayer. I’ve walked beaches, boulevards, and gravel roads, praying for Fred, Saffron Cross, direction and reprieve from stagnation.
This trip, my walks were sprinkled with something new: silence. My mind was quiet; I didn’t ask God for a muse or an opportunity. I didn’t beg for the next book or a solution to a problem. I was simply a 33-year-old woman, stepping one foot in front of another, treading patiently in what most call the “in-between” time. This is space between what’s been accomplished and what is yet to come—the land of “I’m not certain where I’m going” or “I have no idea what’s next.”
But, instead of “in-between,” maybe this should be called contentment? Not dream chasing, but happiness?
It’s the kind of peace that walks stone streets with mindfulness—the one that really sees the birds swoop along the shore. It’s the kind of mood that appreciates the hour of the day. It’s a gratitude for time a part, for love and health and wonder.
Maybe this is sabbath? Not running to the next thing, but relishing in this thing, whatever it is.
My last day in Charleston, I sat on a Battery Park bench adjacent to welded cannon balls fashioned into a pyramid. The sculpture and I watched as two middle-aged women took selfies against the deep blue water, sweet grass roses clenched by sets of perfect teeth.
Runners rushed by my perch, breathing heavily. Carefree undergraduates set up temporary hammocks between trees and read literature. Strollers came and went, leaving me to eavesdrop on conversations of pairs asking one another “Have you heard from him?” and wondering if the “Him” is a father, friend, or foe.
This is the kind of in-between time that offers us a glimpse into others’ lives, and into our own.
Charleston always teaches me something. This year, it was this: contentment.
Some days, happiness is as simple as looking around you. Noticing. Listening. Trying not to pack each second with a goal or a to-do. Swimming in the ordinary.
I cherish Charleston–with it’s gas-lit silent streets, and its connection to my mother and my aunt. I am both young enough and old enough to know that these moments—the ones we build today with the people we love—become our memories.
Tell us about a time when you were contentment. How/where/why did it happen?
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