Long ago, a bunch of friends and I spent a Saturday moving all of my roommate’s and my things from one part of Seattle to another. It was a pretty typical move, complete with trips to the dump in someone’s borrowed minivan, and furniture crammed in someone’s borrowed truck. The crowning achievement, at the end of the day, was pushing my roommate’s piano up the stairs to our second floor apartment.
The piano had been free, one of those orphaned pianos that cries for rescue by musically-inclined, recently-out-of-college twenty somethings. Moving it had also, technically, been free, but by the end of the day, with the distinct impression we’d depleted our helpful team of friends, we felt compelled to visit the expensive grocery store across the street from our new apartment and buy every delicious thing we could. From there, we made our way to the park, a short walk away, and spread out our feast, tired and satisfied, watching the sunset and resting our limbs and generally savoring being young and together.
Several years later, I’m back at Discovery Park for a picnic. None of us live near here, so it’s an odd place for a picnic in one sense. In another, it’s the largest park in Seattle, with sweeping views of Puget Sound unfolding at the base of rolling meadows, a vast enough place that it never seems crowded and always feels far from the busy city. So, truly a perfect place for two young families to picnic at the end of a long week. Like last time, we’re all a bit tired. Like last time, some of us are moving. Today, for once, it’s not me.
It’s a warm summer evening, one of those nights that makes living in Seattle the other nine months really worth it. Really, I like the weather most of the time, but whenever I feel the need to make a case for my city to those who don’t understand the glory of a rainy day or ten, I tell them about summer, about days that top out at about 80˚ F and then sink just slightly below that around dusk, enough to make you cozy up in a sweatshirt to watch the sun dip behind the Olympic Mountains.
We carry our baskets and diaper bags and babies up a set of stairs, through a corridor of blackberry bushes, to a wide open field in front of a long-abandoned chapel. Down below us are yellow hills, dry now in August, crisscrossed by paths that run down to the top of the bluffs like tributaries. Beyond that, the still water of Puget Sound, interrupted here and there by a sailboat or the lumbering container ships with their loads of brightly-colored blocks. Once upon a time, we could have watched the view for hours, stayed for the sunset, but tonight we have other things on our minds.
We spread out our own feast, grocery store treats and sandwiches we made at home and cut a special way so our kids would eat them. We pour lemonade into plastic cups, debating which of the three kids most needs the spill-proof top. We hear them squealing across the field, racing and climbing and laughing, waving sticks and walking on the low stone wall. The two babies sit at our feet, one busying herself on a picnic blanket and the other seeing how much dust she can absorb into her clothes before it’s time to go.
We eat. We talk about the future, about the job that’s calling our friends north, away from our city and country. We’re excited, us for them and they for the adventure ahead. And it’s bittersweet; we’ll miss them, miss sharing busy evenings full of shrieks and running, meals and conversation laced through the fullness of parenting very young children at the same time. If I learned anything in my time in Germany, in that ever-changing community, it’s that these goodbyes aren’t forever, usually, but that they’re still a bit hard. And that’s OK, really even good. Hard goodbyes matter.
When the snacks are gone, we walk down to the top of the bluff, wanting to steal a better gaze at the water, since we’d come all this way, wanting our kids to run just a little bit more so they’d sleep better tonight. Wanting, really, to show it to them, this pretty place where I’d used to come so often. On the way down I remember the moving day picnic, and tell our friends. We pass a group of college-age women, sharing a picnic of their own by the edge of the cliff. They look at us, a bit puzzled, with our dusty, tired, laughing kids and our fragmented conversation.
I look at my friend, fellow mother, and smile. “We used to be them,” I remind her. “And someday they’ll be us,” she whispers back. We all have our seasons.
Having bid the water, the park, the day farewell, we turn back up the hill. Three kids are carried, and two hold each others’ hands on the long walk back to the car. We say goodbye, for now, make plans to visit and are sad and excited. We’re next to them at a stoplight and we honk and wave, our kids as excited as we would have been when we were twenty or so.
It’s not hard to idealize the past, to oversimplify it until it’s all picnics in the park, retouching away the boxes and the dust and the weariness. But tonight I hold them both, past and present, and love them both. In their messes, their beauty, their uncertainty, their friendships, both are a gift, tonight linked together by this vast park, the largest in Seattle, and dear friends to share it with once more.