Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Than Miles Travelled

One thousand eight hundred twenty-eight miles. Maine to West Virginia to Maryland to West Virginia to Maine. Five days and four nights.

Ken and I physically travelled many miles last week. For me, it amounted to more than a trip through nine states. It was a trip back through time to a house I haven't lived in for more than thirty-three years, a house I left when I was nineteen, a house where I left nothing behind. I have been back at various times to visit, seldom to stay and never for very long. It was the house where I lived as a child.

In the thirty-three years since I lived there I have learned a lot about who I thought I was, who I wanted to be, and who I really am. I had to figure out what I could hold onto and what I had to let go. I needed to learn to be myself, in spite of who I thought I should be and despite who my family wanted me to be. This was my puzzle to solve, not my family's. It has taken me three decades to get on the other side of the should's and shouldn'ts. With time, a lot of work, and the love of my own children and husband, I have been able to accept who I am. Finally, I can be myself with my mother and siblings.

I was able to be honest with my father for the ten years before he died. It wasn't easy for me to say what I needed to say, and it wasn't easy for him to hear it. When he died in December 1996, I felt like I had made my peace with him. Last week, when I left the house, I took with me 85 of my father's LP albums and a dozen CDs; he loved good music and quality stereo equipment. Right now I have his Linn turntable in my living room, with plans to use it.

Time with family. Letting go of expectations. Acceptance of what is.

A week before our trip, I took Roger Housden's book Ten Poems to Set You Free off my bookshelf and started reading a poem each night. The following poem by Stanley Kunitz describes beautifully my thoughts before, during, and after my visit to the house where I lived as a child.

The Layers
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

3 comments:

Cindy L said...

Sharon, a beautiful post here. And I have to tell you, it gave me chills... Just yesterday, I was cleaning my bookshelf and ran across the SAME book by Roger Housden, and realized that I hadn't spent enough time reading it. I pulled it down, and it's sitting on my desk waiting for me. Then, this morning, I read your post and the poem, and well, it is so good to be connected to women like you, who think and feel the same things!

Kate said...

A beautifully written post, Sharon. The poem is lovely too. I'm glad that you say, "Finally, I can be myself with my mother and siblings." Quite a journey, I imagine.

Keep writing!

MMH said...

What a good post to read - and the poem!!!
At our age and stage, it seems we can really make and deal with big changes - of behaviors, losses, jobs and lack of. We are willing to examine and grow.