Sally Jansen walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down.
The sun glinted merrily off the crashing waves below her as she, silent and unseeing, wiped a single tear from her clenched jawline just before it fell.
She’d been coming to this place every day for as long as she could remember. Or perhaps she’d simply forgotten a life before here. Every day after an avoided breakfast and a too late lunch. Later in the afternoon than was warm enough to be comfortable and just before the shadows after sunset made it difficult to find a way back.
Every day the same, regardless of the weather and despite the gulls that cried overhead, or the ships that called faintly in the misty distance to let passers-by know of a change of direction.
Every day the same, Sally Jansen would walk slowly to the cliff edge and sit for a while, calmly wiping a quiet tear from her face as she waited.
The routine was so reliably executed, it seemed as though she’d been waiting forever and a day without expectation of any kind of return. But in truth it had only been some years, or a bit more or less of them. A mere blip on the cosmic scanner, in the circle of life and time… and the ebb and flow of both as they came to pass and return.
Again and again.
After she’d wept, Sally Jansen would sit on the grass near the edge of the cliff for a while and wait some more.
After still more of a while after this, she would slowly push herself up with one hand, sighing heavily as though the weight of the whole world was holding her down and rise to stand again, wobbling ever so slightly as she lifted herself straight. As though the slightest breeze might blow her clean over.
When she had steadied herself, she would begin to put one foot in front of the other without much intention…and in doing so, Sally Jansen would slowly make her way home again with hardly a thought at all. Until the sun rose on another new day and she would find herself putting on her walking boots in the late afternoon and just before sunset.
Today was not unlike any other day.
As another liquid golden globe, magical in its brilliance, sank towards the endless shining horizon, Sally turned away from the sun and followed her long shadow as it beckoned her back to the darkened house near the edge of the cliff.
Nobody visited the house near the edge of the cliff anymore.
Well meaning but uninvited guests were infrequent enough for it to seem more like a house at the edge of the world, than a house near a small village, close to a cliff with unending views of the horizon.
Sally Jansen was a quiet sort of person and nobody in the village knew more than this. Nobody knew more of Sally than a few small facts.
That she came in to the market on a Wednesday, to stock up for the week ahead. That she always kept a good supply of candles. That she only very occasionally allowed herself a small cake, or neat packet of biscuits, when the weather was greyer and the wind more cold than usual.
Other than this her shopping list remained the same each market day. And Sally Jansen avoided the town, and the people in it, on every other day of the week.
Nobody knew where she had come from either.
Or what she was doing in the house at the edge of the world, near the cliff with the unending horizon. The folk in the town had long since stopped inviting her to events, social occasions or town hall meetings. And the neighbourly gifts of home made breads and bakes had dried up even a while back before then.
People had accepted the stranger as well as they could, had let things be and had gotten on with the business of living without further curiosity or resentment. Perhaps when life is more simple, people and their ways are able to remain so more easily as well.
Four long summers and three longer winters passed before the routine of Sally Jansen changed even slightly one bit. And when it did, Sally Jansen wasn’t even the first person to realise it had happened.
Or to fully understand how things eventually changed at all.
Jack Summer had lived in the village near the house at the edge of the cliff since he’d been born on a cold bedroom floor at home.
He’d entered into this world early by seven days. And even then quick enough for his mother to not reach the nearby bed, from the warm bath she’d lain in, for his birth.
A child more full of wonder and curiosity had yet to be met in the once restful village. Jack’s laughter could frequently be heard ringing heartily throughout the town from as far as the hills and cliffs, as he adventured through the landscape and lost himself in the magic of nature and his own imagination.
The weather had little effect on his travels. Jack could be found wandering outdoors in sunshine or rain, oblivious to the temperature or moods of his surroundings. Always seeking. Always moving forward.
Ever warm with the anticipation of discovery. Ever cool with the confidence of finding his way home.
Jack’s exploration of the local territory had widened every year of his life.
To the point that, by the time Sally Jansen quietly appeared in the distance at the house near the edge of the cliff, Jack would be away from his home for many seasons at a time.
But to his home he would always return.
Jack the man, like Jack the boy, had only ever been able to live according to his own true nature and follow his own heart’s true desire.
The folk in the town had long since stopped inviting him to events, social occasions or town hall meetings. And gifts from unmarried young women, of home made breads and bakes, had dried up even a while back before then.
Jack’s name was hardly mentioned and neither his absence nor his presence caused much of a stir any longer. The folk of the small village had grown to accept his coming and going without bitterness or celebration at his departure or arrival.
Perhaps when life is more simple, people and their ways are able to remain so more easily as well.
Four long summers and three longer winters passed before Jack Summer returned from his travels, to his home in the village, near the house at the edge of the cliff.
And when he returned, Sally Jansen did not even know it.
Sally Jansen had no idea that Jack was back in the village because since he’d seen Sally Jansen walking in solitude to the edge of the cliff one day, later in the afternoon than was warm enough to be comfortable and just before the shadows after sunset made it difficult to find a way back, Jack had begun, for the first time in his life…
…to sit and wait silently and unknowingly himself.
But Jack didn’t even realise he was quietly waiting at all.
He’d been wandering along the shoreline late one afternoon, considering a swim off the old jetty, when he first saw Sally Jansen looking down from the cliff near the house at the edge of the world.
Jack was the only person in the village who still used the jetty to dive off and swim in the wide open waters it led to. Nobody knew where the legend had originated from or when it began, but the beach was believed to be haunted.
When belief replaces seeking, things become the way things are. A slow transition from possibility to unquestionable fact that sometimes makes us forget to question things anymore at all.
But there was once, long ago, the whisper of a man who was lost to the sea bordering the secluded white beach. A man unjustly accused, and sentenced for life, for a crime he had never committed.
A man who had leapt from a passing by prison ferry, to swim to a desperate reclaiming of freedom.
Jack Summer only had to see Sally Jansen looking down, silent and unseeing, from the edge of the cliff once, to be lulled into quiet waiting himself.
And Jack Summer walked to the same shadows, beneath the cliff with the endless horizon, every day on from that moment forward…
to sit and wait silently for Sally Jansen to look down, one more time.
Time is relative.
Although people say this casually, it is often not accepted as any kind of fact. Yet it is. And even an experiential one at that. A watched pot never boils, you know.
Another fact, this one so undeniable it should rather be called a “truth”…
is that everything passes.
Even the most marvellous feats of humanity are eventually largely forgotten, half lit memories blown away by the dusty sands of time.
And the worst crimes of humanity much the same.
Unless a light is kept burning to remind us never, ever to allow such things to ever, ever happen again.
We have to be careful, however, not to get stuck in the past while we remember…
That everything passes is an unquestionable truth.
And perhaps the only truth that is unquestionable.
The fact that time is relative because it is just another human construct, created in a bid to make sense of the impossible to ever fully understand, is also largely ignored or forgotten.
Forgotten as people continuously check clocks; as bells signifying significant moments continuously ring out; as beginnings and endings are rushed towards or away from; as the imagined necessities of living are busily pursued to achieve such very, very important goals.
Goals of learning more. Making more. Becoming more.
How ironic, then, that all these attempts to understand and control the experience of living do is to increase an underlying anxiety that is an inescapable part of being alive.
The understanding that any real control over the outcome of things is just an illusion…
Time was most certainly relative for Sally Jansen and Jack Summer.
What only seemed to be the still not so distant past to Sally Jansen, as she walked to the edge of the cliff each day to sit and wait silently, later in the afternoon than was warm enough to be comfortable and just before the shadows after sunset made it difficult to find a way back…
…was closer to five long years.
While what seemed an eternity to Jack Summer, as he silently waited in the shadows beneath the cliff with the endless horizon for Sally Jansen to look down one more time…
…was only, in reality, several relatively short weeks.
But perhaps people who are only able to live according to their own true nature and follow their own hearts’ true desire are less aware of clock time. Or the times of bells, goals and allotted hours for the beginnings or conclusions of events and experiences.
Perhaps for people like this, things just are as they are.
And it is absolutely necessary to wait sometimes.
To wait and allow nature to take its course.
Because everything passes.
This is an immutable “truth”.
Despite Jack Summer’s unusual and remarkable ability to “wait” in a world loudly dominated by the importance of Time, Sally Jansen never did look down at the shadows beneath the cliff at the edge of the world again.
Perhaps because she had waited just long enough herself…
Sally Jansen looked up instead.
I do not know if Jack’s patient observation of Sally Jansen was what caused the change to occur, but I secretly wish it was. Although we may think it implausible, I do know our intentions and thoughts shape and even create the world around us in so very many ways.
Perhaps it was Jack’s burning will and desire alone. Perhaps it was simply the lengthy quiet and stillness that created enough space for the new. Or, probably, it was just the passing of Time itself.
This is, like many things, is something we will probably never be able know with absolute certainty.
However, I do know that learning to accept the not-knowing is as remarkable a skill…
as is learning to wait.
As is the skill of being able to sit quietly with both the past and the future, long enough for them to recede to the times and places in which they are meant to reside and finally stay…
unless there’s a need to refer to them in the Now.
I like to imagine that Jack Summer loved Sally Jansen back into the Now despite her being unaware of it. I like to imagine this because I still want to believe unconditional love can heal just about anything.
But I can’t say this is a truth.
What I can say, again, is that everything passes if we are able to sit and wait patiently enough for the inevitability of this.
So although she never knew why and we will probably never know for sure either…
on a day that was suddenly unlike any other day…
as another liquid golden globe, magical in its brilliance, sank towards the endless shining horizon…
Sally Jansen finally stood and turned towards the sun again.
As she lifted her face to feel the gentle warmth of the setting sun’s rays on her skin, Sally Jansen breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly…
as though she was releasing the weight of the whole world that had been holding her down.
With this letting go, Sally Jansen suddenly saw the sun glinting on the golden ocean.
On that day, Sally Jansen turned towards the wide open waters that were beckoning her to dive in and swim.
That was the day Sally Jansen walked away from the darkened house near the edge of the cliff at the end of the world…
…down to the beach, with no ghosts, where Jack Summer sat patiently waiting.
Where Jack Summer sat patiently waiting to light the fire he’d prepared for the day Sally Jansen finally arrived.
Originally written for a challenge for Dreemport. You can find their website here