It has been three months since I left Vladimir, but the memories are still as crisp as ever, and the chronicle of my time there just wouldn’t be complete without a reflection on my favorite day of the summer, an enchanting, vivid trek to the outskirts of town…
I dedicate this post to the friends who shared this unforgettable experience with me.
It was our last Sunday in Vladimir. The waning summer begged us to one last adventure, a journey to the pond where the boggy grass squishes under bare feet, water pooling and the ground shifting with every soft step. We swam and laughed and ate, all the while taking photographs to make the moment seem less mortal. I sit on the shore now, muscles stretched, pond water soaking through my old pink t-shirt, and I think I am content. My friends jump into the water again despite the shiver that the setting August sun has birthed, and I resist until I see them crawl onto a mound of dirt rising out of the pond in the distance. From some almost-forgotten dimension, childhood pulls me. My blood turns to fiery life and some long lost, gleeful little girl says “now!”

I jump into the laughing water, crispness engulfing my raw, rosy body, and I am young again. At twenty one years I somehow find myself grey inside, aged and arthritic for my striving and chasing mirages, ambition clouding my vision and melancholy clouding my mind. But now, I race through the magic water, chilly breaths shooting ecstasy into my lungs, the sky breathing softly on my face, January-cold twinges in the brown, organic lake lighting my feet with tingles of life.

The island oozes odorous dirt and rotting grass into the deep water as I pull myself up. My heart giggles and I am transformed into the five year old eager to muddy my skin by any means possible, to feel the earth at its most intimate touch. I used to come inside on hot summer days, painted in brown, grinning, content and more alive than life itself. Mom learned not to be surprised by my need for the dirt, the sensory abandon to something that lauded life beyond rules and structure and trying to be good.

I fall here now in an old brown bathing suit and embrace the island, letting the muddy mixture massage my skin. The constraints of consciousness are broken and all is sharp, clear and stunning: He never meant for me to grow up into the fragile senility of sin. Surely I am in Eden right now, innocent and intoxicated with a love that is not diluted and distorted by days trod to the rhythm of Ecclesiastes, the hopelessness of being small and insignificant and aging by the day. Here, His voice boldly caresses my ears with what I’ve always known in a vague whisper, in a displaced, misplaced love letter: that I am nothing, and that my nothingness makes His love that much more matchless.

I stand up and grin and pick up a wad of my chosen weapon; earth crawls under my nails. The war begins, and soon grenades are launched and twelve hands are spinning in joyful mischief. Each splatter of mud melts my mask, and I become clean, shining and whole. I fall and bathe once again, pale white skin washed and renewed by lovely soil, chunks of the island tangling in my wild hair. All I have striven for is eclipsed in this messy perfection that hints at heaven. Beauty surrounds me, beauty is breathed into me and I am Eve before the fall. He colors me with deft painter’s strokes; He makes me beautiful, and no constricting dress or wobbly heels could compare to this lovely living wet earth. He adorns me with freedom, and I now know love from the eyes of a vibrant little girl, screaming “Daddy, Daddy, watch me!”


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