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I caught up with a friend, recently, who after many years of being single is remarrying this summer. Following a period of solitude and consideration of what she wanted in life, she decided to actively pursue a long-term relationship with a man. She found him online initially, and when they finally met, she said, they fell in love. That was it.
Love at first sight. Kind of.
I don’t believe in eyes connecting across a crowded room and sparks flying heart to heart at first glimpse. I do believe, though, that once we really see someone or something, clear and unveiled, without judgment, we are bound to fall in love, again and again.
I fell in love last week, not with a man or a woman, but with a perfect day. It was one of those Colorado winter days when the car doors are frozen shut in the morning and by afternoon everyone’s walking around in their shirtsleeves. These days aren’t unusual in our part of the Rocky Mountain West, but some days we look and don’t see them, cursing the frosted windshield, the stinging door handle.
I woke up early this perfect February day and saw the pink sunrise for the first time in a long while. Scrambled eggs and toast and the dog skidding across the front porch to retrieve the New York Times. His proud release. A son sleeping upstairs.
That morning a string of clouds lingered just below the mountain peaks to the west, puffy strands stretching the entire length of our town. Above, a sky so clear and blue you could swim in it. Below, sharp shadows cast by everything between the earth and the winter sun. There are days when I hate that same sun, wanting relief from its relentless brightness, but not this perfect day. This day I saw the shadow of the car rolling down the street alongside the car, a cinematic wonder.
This day I was planning a birthday dinner celebration — the birthday of my children’s father who died two-and-a-half years ago. Enough time had passed that we could finally remember his life with gratitude. It was strange to be in love with this perfect day, but it was easy to remember how much he loved this town, those clouds, that sky, those mountains, those kids, these streets. It was good to be able to see him again without a veil of darkness, on this perfect winter day.
I drove downtown to pick up some of our favorite bar food — greasy chicken strips with hot sauce — from his favorite bar, and at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in the middle of a Thursday, drank his favorite martini while I was waiting. I had forgotten I had a smartphone, then it began to tinkle. Text messages trickling in, from New York, from Texas, from California, remembering this birthday, this perfect day.
I recalculated a mental list of the menu and errands to run: Ruffles potato chips and onion dip from the supermarket, slices of carrot cake from the neighborhood deli. We would indulge in cholesterol overload in memory of this cardiologist, this junk-food junkie who rode his bike a couple-hundred miles a week, whose arteries ran as clear as a mountain stream.
Passing through the middle of downtown I slowed down when a dark figure emerged into the street against the traffic light and traffic. A familiar ashy face, a body shrouded in a dusty down jacket, a guy I’ve probably seen with more regularity on a weekly basis than best friends or family. He didn’t look up, knowing the cars would wait for him as they always do. Crows cackled on the power lines above him. Jesus in a down jacket, I used to call him years ago when my kids and I saw him on the sidewalk next to the park. I had looked at him and not seen him hundreds of times since, but this perfect day I saw him, a long lost friend.
This day, treats for everyone. New Rawhides for the dog. Candles around the house, along the front porch rail, on the hearth, in the middle of the dining room table. The Beatles on satellite radio.
Our fingertips were crusty with salt from the bottomless bowl of Ruffles. We said goodnight to this perfect day and I blew out every candle, remembering at the last minute, in the darkness, the one still burning in the bathroom. The dog clicked down the hallway to bed, his last sigh a reminder of the possibility, always, of love at first sight.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.