Saturday night I drove into Los Angeles to meet Stereo and her Mister, on holiday from the UK. Whenever I can, I take the Pacific Coast Highway along the ocean. It’s slower but it’s beautiful and the drivers are less angry. As I crested the hill where Pepperdine University lies tucked between hills and ocean, my breath caught in my throat. Their lawn, always emerald green in a drought-stricken state, was covered in row upon row of American flags. If I had to guess, I would say there was one for each person who died in the horror of 9/11. Traffic slowed. People got out of their cars to take pictures. It was stunning.
It brought back another memory. I was 14, living in France for a year with my family while my father was on sabbatical. Every school break, and there were many, we would pile into the car and travel through Europe. This particular weekend was the holiday when everyone went to visit their family’s cemetery plot (and I believe it was statistically the deadliest weekend for car accidents but I could be misremembering). I felt sick to my stomach at the gaudy displays of excess, each headstone larger and more expensive than the last. As I wandered through, reading names and dates, I turned a corner and before me lay hundreds of unmarked white crosses in perfect rows. In that moment, I tasted an understanding of the horrors of war, and the beauty and grace that come from a simple honoring of the dead.
When I drove home late Saturday night, the flags at Pepperdine were perfectly lit. There were no cars, no gawkers or picture takers. I felt the grace, deep in my bones.
Sunday afternoon I saw dolphins. It had been months, though I look for them often. We were walking the dog along the beach and mid-sentence I saw the sleek curve of a dorsal fin and stopped everything to watch. I am always mesmerized by their beauty. At one point, they were close enough for me to hear the sound of their breath. Usually when they’re close to shore they stay low in the water but this time they jumped and played. I wanted to yell at everyone on the beach who seemed too absorbed in their conversations to lift their eyes, Do you see them? Are you witnessing this grace? Stop for a moment and notice. Here, right in front of you, there is hope, there is love, there is joy.