Despite the fact that we are well into January, I can’t seem to let 2016 go. A friend recently asked me, without a hint of derision, how I can justify my impulse to celebrate the past year as a personal success. After all, I can point to no career advances or acclaim, no rousing personal achievements. As an out-of-shape, frumpy middle-aged mom with a couple of ordinary kids who lives in a small, run-down apartment, it’s pretty hard to explain how on earth I might market anything about my life as a triumph. My culture says that I should be wishing for more, committing to 10-step plans for our betterment rather than sitting back to revel in my mediocrity.
I suspect that part of the answer comes from the fact that this life, humble as it is, is mine. At least in some significant ways I’ve been granted the ability to choose this gig, rather than being fully coerced by my circumstances.
There is also something to be said for life in one’s 40s – something surprisingly freeing about arriving at a point in life where one’s identity resembles a finished building rather than a construction site. Certainly, there are still projects to be undertaken, beams to replace and rooms to redecorate but the foundation is set and the basic structure is complete. It seems that I have reached the point where I know how to live within it’s walls, to delight in it’s graceful archways and stop fretting over the tacky brown carpeting.
But I am beginning to believe that real meaning comes from somewhere else. It hit me when I came back from visiting my parents in the Midwest this summer and knew, somewhat to my dismay, that I was really and truly home. It may have been the first time that I recognized just how intimate my feet are with the paths and locales of my neighborhood. My first impulse was to compare, as so many do, the singularity of this place to the grit and conflict of the Midwest. After all, I live in a city that has become an adjective.
But I don’t believe that story.
We have been very lucky. I find myself in a place where I feel supported in the true sense of the word. My kids have solid schools and good relations with their teachers and no less than 10 doors in the immediate vicinity of our house on which to knock if they need help of any kind. Some of our immediate neighbors are the kind of people I would be grateful to meet anywhere. The fact that several have children of similar ages to mine seems almost to good to be true. But I’m still not convinced that a strong community is a question of the right people or the right place. I think it is largely a question of commitment. And the true cost of community is time, that commodity that is so mercifully scarce for the vast majority of families.
In reality, I struggle with this place that I call home. It is changing so rapidly that I now deeply understand the kind of fear that breeds conservatism. Add to that the fact the fact that we simply can’t afford to live here.
But I live here. Actively. And, though it has taken more than a decade to reach this point, this is my home. I have begun to see all of it’s problems and flaws in much the same way that I see that tacky brown carpeting.
They are mine.
A Poem on Hope
It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.
Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this
knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.
It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask
for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land
and your work. Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.
Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.