Saturday, January 10, 2015

lanterns meant for you

After supper we went to the television, 
innocents in a magic land 
 getting more innocent,
 --Stories by Stephen Dunn 

Unlike lovers they possessed no past, unlike man and wife, they possessed no future.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

I got home on Monday to a letter. One that had not only a note from my dearest friend inside, but also Honduran dollars! (Nothing like a Christmas bonus from Auntie Jenna). It's beautiful currency, and I'm glad I can't use it. If cash wasn't good for buying things, I would appreciate its delicate appearance so much more; putting it to use spoils it, I think.

 One can never feel quite alone or desolate, when you come home to a letter in your mailbox. Sometimes on long days, I envision a letter, scrawled all over with spindly handwriting waiting for me in my mailbox. Knowing that, through the slant of the letters and the curls of each capital, I will get to see a little of a friend. Not their face or their smile, but perhaps a bit of their mood, and a part of their heart. I know that when I pick it up and read the contents of this small sheet of paper, no matter how unwelcoming my surroundings are, I will feel instantly at home.

One night, my family sat at the table.
Actually, there was only four of us. 
Which was such a strange sensation.
When I was younger, there was never just four people at the dinner table. 
But the four of us sat there, and my mom and dad had to deal with car payments. I guess that's what a lot of being a family means: dealing with car payments and unexpected loans and all the boring details that keep a household running.
But then our dinner didn't end with cars and mortgages and my mother (who never drinks) declaring that she needed a glass of wine. It ended with a well-placed joke or two and laughter.
As we said our after-dinner grace, we were all still choking back giggles, which would erupt in the middle of our prayers. My little brother's eyes were speckled with lights of laughter as he looked back and forth between me and my dad, who was laughing as he said his words of thanksgiving.

And our dog snuffled into the dining room, and we shooed him out. It is this just being together that makes family so beloved. Home is so ordinary, and that's the magic of home: that earlier that morning, I'm riding subways and running about a vile and tempestuous city, and then that night, I'm sitting on my own couch in Minnesota, annoyed at that one patch of upholstery that always seems to be fraying, and it seems like I never left. When I go home, I'm transported back to a time when I irrefutably belonged in the contours of our living room sofa, back to a time when the only bathroom I knew was my purple one, back to the sunlight in my kitchen shining for me. I am surprised, when I slip back home in my mind, how natural it feels to imagine myself walking in our kitchen.
When I am scared or unsure; distraught or lonely, I will imagine myself walking in my kitchen: how warm it feels, the perfect lighting, the well-stocked cupboards, and the clutter on the counter.

The physical reality of being home provides such an interior comfort.
And I mourned being away from it for so long. Until I was laughing with, and complaining to, a friend on the phone (there's another thing: the telephone. I marveled as I spoke with him how far away he seemed, yet his voice, like the words on the page, could bring so much of him to me. How strange, this human project of communication is. We splinter ourselves to share ourselves with others.), and he said: Well, in going away, you learn to truly value it.
Which is such an over-used proverb. Yet, perhaps--like all the simple realities--more profoundly true than I would like to think. Although I would rather live close enough to home to visit every weekend, perhaps I would never realize how treasured a place it is if I did not leave it, even for such painful stretches at a time.
Perhaps, if someone or something never leaves us longing for its presence in a seeming absence, we will never understand how deeply we desire it.

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