"...the pebble cannot bore you; a pebble also cannot disintegrate, or if it does, only in times far in the future. You also cannot forget it because you are not supposed to remember it. Finally, you can never lose it for good, since you’ll find it again on any old gravel path because it is just any old pebble..”
- Franz Kafka, letter to Max Brod 1908
I spent last Saturday on a Bay in the Hamptons. I waded in the cold water, walked upon the pebbles and rocks that crunched underfoot, and read until my hands numbed and face burned from wind. My souvenir from the weekend is a small rock from the Bay. Too quick to lose the centered relaxation I enjoyed from solitude, creative pursuits, and lack of responsibility since returning to my normal schedule, the rock helps bring to me the shadow of the feeling of relative peace. This ain’t nothin’ in a life that increasingly moves a bit too fast for me in a job that demands a hell of a lot.
The rock I chose stood out, lumpy and marbleized in shades of dirt, red and purple with crystals of salt reflecting light. Most of the rocks were smooth as sea glass in tones of yellow, white, and orange. They reminded me of an old lady’s botched dye job, but one who evokes such fondness that there’s nothing not to admire, especially in the hair. But more, the rock I selected reminds me of all of the rocks at the Bay, their sounds rubbing together, and all of the many rocks I’ve collected.
While I’m sitting here the rock is beside me on my desk. Only a matter of time before it’s crowded out by papers, candles, coffee mugs... and ends up on the floor. I’ll pick it up at some point; maybe dustpan it with debris into the trash, but probably put it in a cup or saucer. I’ll do a big cleaning before a party or trip, and find the rock. I’ll probably not remember what earth this rock was supposed to call to mind. I’ll scan sacred outdoor spaces in mind — woodsy hiking trails, space around my dad’s grave before the grass took hold, the Chesapeake Bay, Salem Willows, C & O Canal towpath, parks, playgrounds, Petra… — places from which I’ve collected rocks. And it doesn’t matter that this rock’s not connected to any of them. It reminds me of powerful and restorative space, or just that comfort can be found in a rock, the thought being more comforting than the rock itself.
I asked my daughter what I should blog about, since it’s been awhile and intimidating to choose a subject to follow my last weighty-themed blog, whose subject presented itself unavoidably. We’d been talking about the ugly, cracked plastic tub that holds her old rock collection that we studiously clean around in the living room, but never talk about discarding. Why? We finally talked about it. We did not conclude a reason, but that we’d move the contents to a nicer container, not being willing to yet part with the collection. It reminds me of my spritely toddler’s love of throwing rocks, particularly to splash in a stream, the Grand Canyon, skipping rocks, deserts in Arizona, the 20 pound “dragon egg” I carried in my backpack all around Manhattan from Central Park, because when your adorable seven-year-old says she needs to keep a dragon egg, what else can you do?
She challenged me to write about rocks. Turns out, it’s not so much of a challenge at all.
In preparation for this blog post, I searched for Letters to Friends, Family, & Editors, by Kafka, a beloved book that got me through many a night out west. Is it possible that it didn’t survive my moves? More likely I lent it out; difficult for me to keep hold of the books I love most. Reading the letters reminded me of those nights and those friends that connected me to myself through travels alone through strange space and the rock I sent, with the quote above, to a dear friend on his birthday, saying as Kafka did when sending the pebble to Max Brod, “I have found the finest of birthday presents for you.”
November seems a particularly apt month for gratitude and nostalgia. The theme of rocks seems particularly well-suited to that purpose. Rocks serve a valuable role in my life, in way of seating in the woods, keepsakes, things to hold to, and conjurers of memories.