I’m having a moment.
Potatoes are steaming on the stove top, garlic cloves on the cutting board, and Rickie Lee Jones on the turntable. It’s 2016, and I haven’t heard “Flying Cowboys” in at least a decade.
In this moment, making dinner in the kitchen, the wind whips through the trees outside. A tropical mist drizzles our island in grays, sputtering in gusts of chilly downpours. This minor nip has me cranking the oven, baking, and feeling cozy.
Jeb is taking care of some laundry in his room. The Bohemian (rained in) is taking a rare pause, reading a travel magazine and sharing a glass of red wine with me.
I stand at the stove, a living snapshot of warm domesticity, when the familiar intro notes of “Flying Cowboys” needles out from the vinyl on the record player. Just as one whiff of tomato soup can transport you to your grandmother’s kitchen thirty years ago, this guitar riff instantly sends me to the year I turned 21.
Twenty years old in Pacific Beach, California, I was trying to find my place in a town where I didn’t know how to do the parties, and I was always getting sunburnt. Just when I felt completely lost, I met a man twice my age, his chest-length beard gleamed with almond oil in the La Jolla sun. Having recently left a Sikh ashram after 20 years of devotion, he’d moved to the beach, and unleashed his long locks from the confines of his turban. At a time when my Religious Studies classes weren’t reaching me, this man walked the sands by my side, talking about the Infinite.
That which there is no greater.
And that, I couldn’t really fathom. So I knew it was as close to God as I had ever come.
I’ll call my friend “the Guide”, as he came into my life-like a signpost, pointing to paths I hadn’t seen before. Figuratively, he led me to new terrain. Literally, we took a lot of walks together. Often, we meandered the coastline, sometimes spanning the length of several towns. We drank fresh-squeezed orange juice, ate mung beans and rice with garam masala, and listened to plenty of music. Our soundtrack was Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Deep Forest. And driving in my Subaru, the constant in the tape deck was Rickie Lee Jones.
The Guide encouraged me to face my fears, and I took him seriously. I left Pacific Beach and set out on a summer-long, solo road trip, designed to put myself in all sorts of uncomfortable and daring situations (camping alone in the forest, hiking unknown trails, ‘going with the flow’) all the while trusting (and essentially, asking for living proof) that I was divinely protected. It was my mission to convince myself that I was wholly cared for in the world, that I could face a fear and overcome it, becoming all the stronger for it. RLJ’s “Flying Cowboys” cassette was with me all the way.
Now, 42 years old in the kitchen, a 12-year old boy down the hall, and a husband in a nearby chair, the nearly 21-year old me, boulder hopping around Smith Rock, Oregon seems distant, until the music.
Standing on the cliffs today
I thought I saw you below
my shadow growing smaller…
Rickie’s words fall, full and sweet, over carefully plucked guitar strings.
Her longing melody brims, all tongue and teeth inside her mouth, swirling sound, then spilling:
Were you walking on the water?
Playing in the sun?
But the world is turning faster
Then it did when I was young
When I was young
At Smith Rock, I climbed to the top of rock peaks, as far as I could go without ropes. I dared to linger and dip in the river, even when I saw bobcat scat on the boulders. I reached a long arm to snap a photo of myself in the reeds, recording a solo moment long before ‘selfies’ had a name.
The irony of the song lyrics positions me on a timeline, simultaneously experiencing their truth in both past and present. The familiar notes of a song I haven’t heard in years, washes through me in my little Hawaii kitchen. I feel time and space viscerally. I am having a moment with steaming potatoes, my skin tingling, my heart open. I am happy and grateful in broadening perspective.
“Mom, it’s so unfair!”
Jeb has left his laundry, entering my musical moment, grumpy-faced.
Jolted from my reverie, my ears are now filled with the woeful tale of confusing directions on an English final, missed points, and a resulting lowered score. His grievance has drowned out “Flying Cowboys,” though Rickie is still scatting the refrain, “oh, when I was young…”
I’m far from the riverside grasses of Smith Rock now. There is a disappointed tween in my midst, and garlic cloves wait to be chopped.
Back in my cassette days with Rickie Lee Jones, this present kitchen scene was what my heart had truly wanted, though in my dreams it was only warm and fuzzy. I didn’t imagine all of the emotional intricacies that parenthood and house holding would entail.
Some days it’s only cutting vegetables and homework, and I don’t even see the shadow of transcendence. Other days, I can sense a sweetness beckoning to be fully felt, but am, somehow, afraid to let it in.
By grace (and oftentimes, a good song), there are, occasionally, the kitchen moments, reverberating like a well-struck chord. Granted from somewhere beyond time and space, they may only ring for an instant, but they hint at the depths I still cannot fathom.
That which there is no greater.
I still do not understand it.
But, sometimes, when the music plays, I feel it.