And there are other places which,
although we did not stay for long,
stick in the mind and call us back—
--Dana Gioia, "Places to Return
Once I walked through Harlem on a summer day in the sort-of rain. It was not quite raining, and not quite dry. The sunlight was damp, and there was a gentle mauve moisture greying the atmosphere. I walked from Washington Heights, near City College, down through many of the upper Manhattan parks, the staircases cutting through these colonized, but untamed cliffs. I wandered past charming, mysterious mansions and elegant, antique brownstones, until I finally came to a subway station that led me home. Or I may have just walked, finally, all the way down Lenox, through the Park, to home.
I loved that walk so deeply, I felt a hunger in my bones for it the other week. And so Friend Joey and I walked that walk in reverse. We explored the cliffs underneath the sidewalks, we saw the Bronx from Edgecombe Avenue, the moon shone on us as we examined the strange front stoop art of neighbors. We laughed with fellow roamers of the night, and made fun of waitstaff at a local restaurant. And we trie to take two buses and one subway, but ended up just walking home.
Because Harlem is a little hamlet that is difficult to get to. It is not easy to breeze through, like midtown or the Village. It is a destination for pilgrims, and the best way to navigate it is through, certainly, peripatetic pilgrimage.
I think I hungered to relive that walk, because it came at a consequential moment; it came as the school year was officially ending, classes were over, and the smell of tree blossoms in summer was suffusing the air. Last summer was a time that will always be gilded in the rearview mirror. I can already feel my memories of how deep my angst and anxiety was being crystallized into mythology.
One of the rituals of life that I am most curious to experience is passing on our story to our offspring. To tell them of their origins: how they are born from tech weeks, sunsets on the West Side, quick judgements of sidewalk parties, conversations with subway seat sharers, airplane journeys, train rides through Umbria, and all the pieces of stories that have made up my life, and will one day make me into their mother.
And I have realized that the story of our vocations is much more tortuous than a storybook. A human's life is filled with so many more twists and turns than I expect it to have. I want to have it all figured out at twenty-four. But it's so humbling and freeing to realize that the entire world, the vast array of human existence, is stretching out in front of you. And you can have as much of it as you open yourself to.
It is, again, humbling to recognize that the story of God's love in our lives is ten times more beautiful and unexpected and deeply surprising than I could ever imagine. Each chapter blossoms into something new and glorious. And if we constantly strive to love better and better, than we cannot cease to find the universe opening up to us, our own particular narrative weaving itself into something complex and clear. Complex, because it seems to the world to be foolishness, following none of its chosen narratives. Clear, because it is pointed towards one very definite being; self-correcting when wavering, returning when it departs, and always pushing forward, forward, forward to find the source of light by which it navigates.