Today Alisa, Bernie’s daughter, took me to visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C.. “The lotuses are in bloom,” she said, “let’s go see them.” It was a warm, dry day and we took some precious private time to walk together and talk.

There were seed pods everywhere. Having spilled seeds into the water, they were now turning black and drying under the sun.

The beautiful lotuses rooted in mud have always been a symbol I loved for a spiritual life, but the only lotuses I’d seen so far, including in my trip to Vietnam many years ago, were those flowers that seemed to float right on top of the water.

But this is Washington, and these flowers opened wide and floated more than a foot above the water on very strong stalks. I watched them, wondering how such heavy flowers survived on tall stalks that were themselves rooted in  soft, muddy soil. The wetlands were all around us; our feet sank and got muddy. Yet out of this soft, squishy mud rose up firm stalks and rainbow petals, with a yellow center the color of sun.

We talked of challenges at home and at work, we talked of much that is messy and unclear. You’d think that when one gets older (like Alisa) and much older (like me), things would fall into place a lot more. You’re wiser now, you choose your battles and engagements with more care. Tread more carefully; avoid weirdness.

That may well be true for some, but not here. In my life I see wetlands all over, places where you slip and slide, where the ground isn’t super firm, in fact you often can’t see the ground under you.

What can I do if my life gets squishier by the moment? I walk on more paths with unfamiliar destinations, and it’s not uncommon at all for the ground to shift under my feet. Life hasn’t gotten narrower and firmer, it’s gotten more porous. Goals and strategies remain, but peripheral vision has widened. And yet, I slip and slide less.

I also care less about spotlessness. Mud covered my sandals today and I shrugged.  It was a fine price to pay to see lotuses, a black racer snake (the first snake I ever saw climbing a tree), turtles, and a blue heron. Don’t get me wrong, we walked on firm terrain most of the time, including on boardwalks, but the mud lay in ambush around corners, and we went ahead. A brief sensation of sinking into oozing mud, but it was warm and grainy, and would dry on my skin before we got back to the car.