Stay Close, Stay Close (This Is How I Come Home)

Photo: Brina Blum

Sitting down to write while the household sleeps, the household in this moment being Mani, my wife of nearly four years, and Chalupa, our English bulldog puppy. Mani got up with her today at 5:00am, and is napping in the bedroom. Chalupa crashed after lunch and is snoring loudly on the living room floor. I’m on the couch listening to Joni Mitchell, wondering how it’s almost 3:00pm already. Then again, I only got up five hours ago.

My son is with his dad this week — they went up to visit family in Vermont. He’s mostly sticking close to home this summer, doing “friends” camps. He is also doing weekly Hebrew lessons, as a step towards more intensive bar mitzvah preparation next year. Middle school begins in the fall, which is seventh grade here.

My daughter is currently in Georgia at a state park, as part of a three-week road trip through the south, learning about organic farming. I’ll get to visit her a week from today, and then she’ll spend three more weeks in the Hudson River Valley. Camp is her happy place — her neshama, or soul, comes to life there. And I already know she’ll come home in August changed. She starts community college in September — the alternative we reached to high school, which was not a good fit for her.

The heat wave from a few weeks ago is already the stuff of memory, and I feel slightly jarred by time right now. The tiny prayer flags hanging in front of the south-facing window across the room flutter in the comfortable breeze, and I feel wistful. You know that full feeling, the one that’s hard to put your finger on? It’s a combination of gratitude, grief, and such a big love of life, mixed with something like lack of control. Knowing anything can happen and anything does. Knowing so much sadness and injustice exists, and the incongruity of this as juxtaposed with snoring puppies and peaceful moments.

The world has never been noisier. Finding pockets of quiet is imperative — and the question lives in me of what the difference is between centering and checking out. I’m always conscious of these dichotomies, the spaces between things, the liminal, the things we name as opposites or as mutually exclusive. What lives there? It’s the basis for a new group I’m leading this fall, Between Opposite Shores.

And I feel so acutely today the knowledge that nothing is guaranteed us. Not tomorrow, not years together, not watching our kids grow, not our next meal. No matter how solid things may seem. I suppose the flip side is also true, then: When life feels most fragile, we can find an inner pillar to hold us upright. It makes me want to witness and hold all of the stories — the ones that get swallowed by darkness, the ones that get forgotten by the lightning-fast news cycles.

Now Valerie June comes on the playlist with her Workin’ Woman Blues. I close my eyes for a minute. A parade of images crosses my mind, of the way history lives inside of our bodies and the way grandmothers hold babies close and the way stories can injure or heal, which is to say, all of us can cause harm or repair harm. Which is up to us, but it’s not easy. It takes years and years and years of life unfolding, of learning how to listen closely to your own soul, of seeing the ways you’ve been misled or mistaken.

I worry I’ve been a shitty friend to a friend of mine. Or friends of mine. I hold myself to a standard of perfection that cannot be upheld or achieved. A tightness forms in my throat as I write these words. Because I want to be good, and for people to know how deeply I love. But I won’t always get it right.

Yesterday, I made a peach tart kind of thing. It was going to be a pie, but I didn’t have the right-shaped pan so I had to improvise. The crust is thick and buttery and dense, the filling peachy and sweet. I ate it for breakfast and I suspect I might also eat it for dinner, because it’s summer and I no longer fear calories the way I used to. I have a body, with fat and cellulite and pounds I do not measure or wish away. This body bleeds and scars and its toes wiggle and oh how it loves to kiss and swim and shower and stretch.

Writing is like the cornstarch — it helps hold together the filling. That may be the worst metaphor ever written, but hey. Whatever.

I watched a video earlier about Claire Wineland, who is 21 and has lived her whole life with cystic fibrosis. She is beautiful — self-possessed, disarmingly funny and real. Listening to her talk about how proud she is of her life touched something in me, something deep and old. As a girl, I used to imagine my life was a movie. In some ways, I wonder now if this was a way of disassociating. On the other hand, it made me feel ultra-present and in some way, important. This — this life — somehow it had to matter.

Letting go of “trying to figure out how” has been useful. Those words send me straight into my head, where solutions disappear the ways stars do when you look directly at them. Trusting life continues to be my biggest practice. And it is enough. My scariest moments are the ones when I can’t see: Can’t see where I am, where I’m heading. And the only way I know back from these ledges is to look around. Literally look around the room — bookshelf, chair, mug, dog, notebook, wife. Stay close, stay close.

Stay close to your right now. Stay close to your heart. Stay close to not needing to know what comes next or how to be better. Stay close to this life, the one you’re in. Let the throat open and the tears flow. Don’t think first. What do you feel? What do you know to be true in this moment?

This is how I come home.

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