I am Atalanta

There is no traffic today. We drive through towns we know too well, across the old bridge, wheels kicking up gravel. Zoe Keating loops her cello through our hearts and the car, and the sun wanders in and out of the afternoon. I am staring out from behind sunglasses, stretching my arms out towards the dashboard. She laughs as I heave a sigh, groan about these lessons we must learn. “The deep trust?” she asks. “Yes, that,” I reply, and nothing more needs to be said. We change the music to Ben Knox Miller, park the car at the edge of the ocean and look out. 

The water is grey and fiesty. It tosses the boats, fighting against their bright oars and heavy nets. We watch for a moment, how nature and humans dance together. “The water today – it’s… you know.” I nod – we do know, finishing in our heads those endless analogies and comparisons we make: I am like water, she is more like air. We play with the ideas – how I love the ocean, and she loves the wind, how I think freedom is anchored somehow to earth and for her freedom is flying. 

“What’s your siren, Hil?” she finally lets the question slip through in between the guitar and piano chords. “What does it sound like? Where does she come from?” And I recognize the bigger question – how do you understand relationships? How do you protect yourself, tempt others? What’s the story of you? 

“I don’t think I am a siren, actually… I think I am Atalanta.” I can’t believe the story until I speak it, but then I remember. How Atalanta believes everything is a competition, her worth determined by her victories. She is the untouchable, the challenger. Race with me? she asks those around herAtalanta loves the thrill of the race – mind and heart and body all engaged together, the elegance and danger of running. “Oh, Lil. I challenge them all. I challenge them to race me.” She shakes her head in amazement. I am Atalanta. 

Two days later we’re on the phone. “Oh!” I say, interrupting her train of thought. “The golden apples, Lil? I get it. They are the brighter truths. The bigger things. I stop racing when I am distracted by something more beautiful than the race. When something beyond myself appears, and I chase that instead of victory.” She laughs. “But really! It’s the comedy kind of deceiving – I am deceived only to realize a bigger truth. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” 

“Yes. It’s beautiful, Hil. And powerful, too.” We keep talking, and I keep pacing the warm floorboards of my room. I am Atalanta. I love to run, but I can see something more beautiful than the race. I’m compelled by what is beyond running. Brighter truths. 

But what is most beautiful isn’t the story, Atalanta or the sirens or Jacob wrestling with God, or any of the hundreds of stories we find ourselves in, wanderers looking for a way home. What is most beautiful is this phone call, and this drive, these hours of wandering together. What is most beautiful is this friend, who opens the back door of my heart and steps inside. What is most beautiful is walking through the story with her.

“So I am Atalanta.” We laugh again, and say our goodbyes. I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. Tonight, I’m thankful for fellow wanderers in words. Tonight, I’m thankful for the bright, beautiful stories – and for the hearts that explore them.

all my wild love, hilary


2 thoughts on “I am Atalanta

  1. You identify more with water than air? So do I. Although I cannot decide if I am more fire or water. Can the two be mixed?
    I love that you are Atalanta. Partly, I love her because of an illustration in a book we had growing up. Partly because she seemed more free than other women in myths. Partly because her name is lovely. I like your twist on the golden apples – they always bothered me, because they made her seem petty. Perhaps she just was curious, and always looking for what was beautiful. There is something encouraging, stimulating, in finding a character to identify with.
    Have I ever told you that I am Strider?

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