Thursday, March 12, 2009

In my place

My transition from European to Midwesterner is nearly complete. Unsure of the meaning of the concept of roots, foreign to my experience, instead I am embracing the idea of place. To comfort the heart of one of my children who after coming into adulthood in Paris found herself in Jackson, I quoted one of Mississippi’s great sons:

“I was trying to talk about people, using the only tool I knew, which was the country that I knew… I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.” William Faulker.

And one of her daughters, Eudora Welty, wrote: “It is by the nature of itself that fiction is all bound up in the local. The internal reason for that is surely that feelings are bound up in place…fiction depends for its life on place.”

There is perhaps something of my own longing for a connection to a specific place that turned my eyes away from any house that had not been standing longer than I have been. Or it may be a passive aggressive protest against living in a suburban community (oxymoron?), instead of some new urbanist development that at least attempts (though rarely succeeds) to create shared spaces and intentional diversity of shape and function.

Never mind all that. The deep rumblings in my soul that started us on this journey back to the land of our birth included the realization that it was possible to be so focused on the horizon that whole sections of the path on which we walk, and the people with whom we share it, become invisible to us.

As if everything that is good is either behind or ahead of us.

But in the place that we are, inside the boundaries that are formed by our geography and economics and language and chronology, there is a deep well of story and imagination and possibility.

Story: we are all characters in the narratives of others, not just our own.

Imagination: the passion to create and change our world is only limited by our willingness to dream and risk and laugh and find that what we have is enough… to begin.

We are moving into an old house in a small Missouri city on the banks of North America’s greatest river. Life is good.
The illusion wanes, and in time we return
to our noisy cities where the blue
appears only in fragments
high up among the towering shapes.
Then rain leaching the earth.
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
and light is a miser, the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an open gate,
among the green luxuriance of a yard,
the yellow lemons fire
and the heart melts,
and golden songs pour
into the breast
from the raised cornets of the sun.

from "The Lemon Trees"
by Eugenio Montale
(Translated by Lee Gerlach)