Two weeks ago my youngest son bought his first house, and in between spackling and painting and refinishing floors I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of home, and what it actually means. I’ve always associated it with a sense of comfort, security, certainty, and where I felt most like myself. For me, home is North on my compass, or the thing that grounds me and guides me as I make my way through life. I don’t consider this to be earth-shattering; I think that most of us probably look at home in a similar way. Is it a location or place then for us, like the country we live in? The United States is where I live, as do many of the people who read this blog, and while the events of the last few years have definitely made us feel less comfortable and less secure, they’ve also acutely reminded us of the need for home to provide those elements. Narrowing things down from there, If our country feels like home, then certainly the city or town that we live in provides us with a sense of home as well. I know that mine does, for sure. I live in a small town with a main street just a half block away that has restaurants and shops, and places for coffee (ah the real definition of home), and access to the train that heads into Philadelphia. It’s nice to pop my head into a shop and have the owner recognize me. I’m going to throw one out to the parents who are reading and say that whatever school our children are in, especially if they’re young, most definitely feels like home. My children attended a small Catholic school that was certainly North on my compass for many years, and I still feel that way whenever I’m in the company of the people with whom I spent time there. They remain a great source of comfort and security for me. Can a job feel like home? Of course it can. I feel very much at home behind the bar at Recklesstown. I love our customers, and my co-workers, and I feel with certainly that I’m meant to be there, doing that kind of work. What about the actual house we live in? Absolutely, but circumstances can change the feeling. Our childhood home often feels vastly different after both our parents are gone, and the family home we’ve created as parents is certainly never quite the same without our children living in it.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about creativity in which I referenced a quote by NIck Cave, one of the most amazing lyricists currently writing music. Knowing how much I admire his work, my youngest son gave me his book, Stranger Than Kindness, for Mother’s Day. In a series of one page chapters, Cave begins the book by saying that we are born into existence and settle into the life we are living, believing it to be complete, until a cataclysmic event comes along that changes both the course of our lives, as well as who we are as individuals. Succinctly stated, we are one person before this occurrence and another person after it. Although this concept is not new, the simple way in which Cave presents it has remained with me since I read it on Sunday night. Before we even relate this idea to our own personal lives, we understand its meaning. We are aware of the potential moments in life that fall into this category. Some of them cause us great fear, like the thought of the sudden tragic loss that might break our hearts, or the awful news that could derail our future, or the terrible accident that we never saw coming. Other moments fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, like the career opportunity that is a dream come true, or the first time we hold our newborn child, or the unmistakeable, heart dropping instant when another person takes our breath away.
Since this upcoming Sunday is Mother’s day, I wanted to write today’s Friday Musing with the holiday in mind, which prompted me to remember a post that I wrote back in January of 2017 about The Joy Luck Club. In it, I talked about the fact that I had recently streamed the moviefor the upteenth time, and how rewatching it led me to take Amy Tan’s novel off my bookshelf, as it always does, to once again read the story that’s told at the very beginning. It’s about a woman who buys a swan from a market vendor who tells her that the bird was once a duck that wanted to be a goose, but its neck stretched so much that it became a swan instead. The woman brings the swan to America with her, hoping to one day give it to her daughter so that she will know that her life holds limitless possibilities in this new country. She could be anything that she dreamed of becoming. The swan is taken away from her by immigration officials, leaving just one feather behind. The woman waits to give her daughter the feather because she wants her English to be perfect. Only then will she be able to say, “This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions.”
For many, many years there has been a poem by Robert Frost that has always been in the back of my mind, its words sitting there patiently, waiting for me to finally understand them and the meaning I’ve always sensed they had for me. I originally read it in college and dog-eared the page in my book of Frost’s poetry that I have sitting here next to me as I write this post. I forgot about the poem for a long time after graduation, and then it resurfaced when I came across the final stanza in the introduction to a book by Wallace Stegner called Crossing to Safety. That was probably 20 years ago. It happens to be one of my five favorite books, but that’s a post for another day. The poem is called “I Could Give All To Time,” and it appeared in the collection entitled A Witness Tree, which won the Pulitzer in 1943. I’ve always thought it was rather telling that Frost wrote this particular group of poems after he’d suffered several personal tragedies, one more devastating than the next, and yet still managed to find hope and love again in their aftermath. The final stanza reads as follows:
One of the ways of looking at love, romantic or otherwise, that has always resonated with me the most is related to the concept of being a witness. Back in 2017, I wrote a post called Can I Get a Witness? in which I considered this idea in greater detail. I talked about the movie Shall We Dance? and quoted a line from Susan Sarandon’s character that is specifically about the reasons why we marry, but is easily transferable to understanding any deep commitment that we may have with another person. Beverly Clark maintains that what we are seeking from committed relationships is to find someone who will be a witness to our lives, someone who will say to us, “your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.” We certainly seek these things from our life partners, or from our closest friends, but we can quickly see how these thoughts can also apply to our children, in the sense that we are the witness to their younger selves, and to our parents, who often need us to become their witness in their later years. Or it may simply be that we share a particularly intense time with a person or a group, during which we witness something together, and a deep bond forms as a result. As many of you who read me know, I can go down a bit of a rabbit hole with words and their meanings, and I found myself doing exactly that with the word witness. As it turns out, the term has multiple meanings, some of which are borrowed from the legal field, and while I truly love the Beverly Clark quote, it seems as though the type of witness we’re looking for is fairly specific when it comes to love.