I’m sitting on a plane for a trip to the West Coast: Portland, Oregon, then down to San Francisco, Sacramento, and back home. I just figured out how to turn off the explosive scenes on the small screen in front of me, an invite from Direct TV to be entertained from morning to night.
When I left the house Aussie was chewing her Sunday morning marrow bone on her warm rug, Henry throwing his stuffed turtle up in the air for about the 1,500th time, Lori doing her weekend laundry, and rain outside.
It never fails. On the morning I leave for a trip, or the evening before, I find myself asking the same question: Why are you going? So much prep work before you even leave: Straightening out the house before you go, making sure Lori has everything to take care of dogs and house in my absence, completing things that can’t wait for 9 days, not to mention packing and traveling to airport.
But what most causes me to question my plan is appreciating what I have: the comforting light that comes in through the window, the coziness of the book by my bed, the coffee machine making good Italian coffee, the unfailing routine that sometimes feels monotonous and other times surprisingly rich—and I leave that for what?
This time, not to see family, not to teach or do other work, but to see friends.
Love comes in many guises. There’s the one that’s romantic, one-on-one. It emphasizes the specialness of one other person, the listening, caring, and loving space jointly created. Over the years your individual identity gets embedded with the other; if you don’t understand that early, you sure get it when one of you dies and you wonder: Who am I without him or her?
I discovered the answer to that through my work, but more so through my relationships with family, friends, and students. If before I was counting on one other person to be my mirror and reflect me back to me (not a job Bernie, bless his big heart, excelled in), now I find my image reflected back to me by many mirrors, each focusing on one or another dimension. Acknowledgment comes from students focusing on practice and encouragement, from friends focusing on long history, the fun of working together over many years, the deep-hearted resonance that has built up over time, and from my siblings the unconditional support and love that we have worked to develop among us over many years and over many miles of distance.
None of this was easy; none happened automatically. Without care and attention, relationships of all kinds turn fallow and lie supine on the ground, unfed, unwatered, just another brown blade of grass that’ll disappear soon with the onset of winter.
I promised myself some years ago that I will not live in an emotional desert, that I want to be held in the cross-current of reciprocal love and appreciation, of feeding and being fed, at the heart of give-and-take.
I’m an introvert. Inside is where I go for energy, comfort, reassurance. The woods also hold me. So does this trip, to see faces I haven’t seen in a long time, catch up, enjoying shared allusions and experiences, and always curious: So, what are you doing now? Tell me who you pretend you are now, and I’ll tell you who I pretend I am.