equinox of the heart
My heart is in equinox. Equal parts light and shadow. That’s not necessarily an out-of-the-ordinary state of affairs for the human vessel that holds all we feel in a day, in a lifetime. But it’s not usually so amplified, not usually so stark.
On the one hand, I am counting down the hours and minutes till a boy I love, the first one I birthed, comes home for the first real time in years and years. The first time in as long as I can remember when he won’t be squelched by the pressures of (in reverse chronological order) bar exam, law school, admission to law school, wrangling a classroom of hellions for the year he was teaching on the mean streets of Chicago, and before that pushing against the deadline for an honors thesis that somehow stretched to 300-plus pages. He is—in three days and two hours—packing a Portland apartment into a moving van, and one day and six hours after that he’s boarding a plane, crossing the Rockies, the Great Plains, and the checkerboard of farmland that is preamble to landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International.
He’ll be here—for the first time in six years—for the Thanksgiving feast. And Christmas, and the turn of the new year. Then he’ll move on, to New York City, where once again he will take up his pen and his law books and clerk for a federal judge. And all that time, all the weeks when he’s here, the first order of business will be simply to breathe. To sleep in the old room at the top of the stairs, to trundle down to this old maple table, to cook by my side, and walk along the lakeshore where we all go to think when our thoughts—and our souls—need every square inch of the infinite sky.
And, on the other hand, the man I married three decades ago, the man whose life has unspooled next to mine for the best of my years, he’s off on the Jersey Shore, in an old quirky-but-endlessly-charming house at the edge of a pond. He is there all alone, except for the movers who are coming in shifts, day after day, to empty the house of every last trace of the long lives lived there. The house will be bulldozed before spring turns to summer. And it’s his job, as the only son, to attend to its final hours. He is packing up the last of the dishes found tucked in a cabinet no one had known, finding nearly lost treasures slipped between books on the shelves (his parents’ ketubah, or marriage “contract,” signed in ink in January of 1955, and almost sent off with a load of donations), taking one last long look out the living room window, watching the sunlight and the swans on the pond.
It’s a house that has played an anchoring role as a central character in the narrative of the long lives lived there. No one ever imagined it wouldn’t be there, high on the ridge at the top of the slope, peering down on the pond. The footfall of at least a century and a half are pressed into the stairs that twist up to the bedrooms. Sixty-five of those years belonged to my husband’s father and mother—he in his white bucks or his Keds, a gentleman of old-school sartorial splendor; she in her size-10 flats (never heels, for she never wanted to tower too tremendously over the little children she taught, as a woman of considerable height).
My husband, who has long taken to heart the tenet that architecture shapes lives as lives shape the architecture, is not one to bid farewell to timber and bricks (both of Revolutionary War vintage) without a significant lump in his throat, and a piercing in his chest. I saw how his eyes went dark, the sadness not hidden, when he said to a friend the other day, “It’s like another death.” It’s the last one of its chapter. Six years ago, the sartorial one breathed his last, and just this July, so did the schoolteacher. Each time, my husband and his sister scattered the ashes along the holy ground that is the edge of the pond.
I can barely imagine how hard it will be to turn the key in the door that one last time. To walk down the steps, turn, take one last look. To drive away, down the lane, the white clapboard gardener’s cottage disappearing into the distance. To know, after 64 years, he’ll never come again.
And so the shadow is thick on the walls of my heart, and the light, too, is dappling, is falling in splotches. The equinox of the heart is not uncharted terrain, but oh it makes for gingerly treading.
Thank you for listening. It is hard, so hard, to say good-bye.
funny that i wrote this in caps, up till now. i’ve been writing and writing all week, and i guess i’ve fallen back into work mode here on the keyboard. for me caps are like wearing my big-girl shoes, lower case is kicking ’em off, shuffling around in my slippers. i’m letting it stand, as a salute to the ones i love…
photos above by blair kamin, on Shippee’s Pond, fair haven, new jersey.
how often do you live in equinox of the heart, and might it be–in many ways–the natural state of the vessel that contains so very much of our love, and our joy and our hurt? so much of our lives are equal parts light and shadow. how do you find a stillpoint?
thank you, dear dear mary…..
Endings and Beginnings are such sacred times as you so beautifully capture today! ONE with you on the journey, my friend ❤
bless you. and a big hug. xoxox
I think I gasped out loud when I read that the house will be bulldozed. So delighted that your older boy will be home for an extended time. Sorrow and joy does some to mingle together often. xoxoxo
i pretty much gasp every time i think of it, too.
What Heather said. 👆🏼That’s such a shame. 💔 My childhood home met the same fate. They put up three gigantic houses on the acre where it stood. My heart goes out to all of you. Too many losses. And, wow, W going from left coast to right. Congrats to him! Sending love.
i’ve never seen a house come down and not winced. or gasped. or near driven off the road in disbelief. (some of the beauties torn down around here really boggle me….). i am so sorry your house got bulldozed. i used to never imagine this old house could suffer that fate, but now i know……we could be its last inhabitants. thank you walls and roof for being not only my shelter but my dream-cooker….
and W, left to right, and then (crossin’ my fingers) back here to the middle some day…….xoxox
Boy, don’t we all wish that for our children…go spread your wings for a few years, but make it your goal to come HOME.
Just how to get them to realize how important it is to be geographically near – I wish I knew.
Thank you for sharing these moments of your family. We never grow too old to want our children near us. I’m so blessed our daughter and grandson are with us. I do not take it for granted. Reading about your anticipation reminded me of my daddy waiting by the screen door for us to arrive safely at the Richmond house. A memory tucked quietly in my soul.
Enjoy your son!
waiting by the screen door……is there a more poignant image? i see it in black and white, lifted from the reels of an american classic. in the inverse equation of parent waiting for child, it was i who waited at the end of our quiet little street when i was little, standing by the brick pillars, waiting for my papa’s car to come round the bend on the big road. i could spot him a quarter mile away….
and, today, now the parent in this moment of the 21st century, i have flight alerts to tell me all day how close he is and how soon it will be till my sweet firstborn lands in chicago. and the home-made sign is about to be taped to the door. and the half-baked deep dish chicago pizza is in the fridge. coming home day is just the best.
thank you for swinging by the old chair. xoxox
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