Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Longing For the Known

Happiness is the Longing for Repetition (M.A. Reilly, 2009)
I. Listening

The day is older now. The light nearly gone. The end of November and my son's friends who spent the weekend are gone and we are in the car.  I'm thinking about neighborhoods as we climb the hill towards home when I have this sudden image of my son years from now working as a writer. As I drive, I realize that I am mostly wondering what stories he will tell--what neighborhood he'll recall. Will he recall these days with fondness?
"Perhaps you'll be a writer," I say. 
"Could be," he offers. "I don't really know about my future. Kind of ruin it if I did." 
He says all of this matter-of-factly and it surprises me.  "How's so?"
"Not knowing. That's the only thing to know, right?"
I love these trips in the car with him. Somehow the distance between a mom and her teenage son is diminished when confined to a car. I really listen to him. I listen better.
"Do you ever imagine what you might be doing?" I ask.
"Mostly pushing at boundaries. Rethinking what it means to be a human being."
"What do you mean?
"Well, being human comes down to doing just three things: creating, discovering, and sustaining. That's how I see it. I want to create. Make stuff. I want to work in ways that I actively am discovering and through all of this I want to make the things I create sustainable."  
 "Those are admirable goals," I tell him.
"We need to be smart especially about sustaining the planet. We're fucking it up and we have to rethink our relationship.  We can't continue to take." 
"Do you think your generation might do things differently than mine?"
"Well we can't keep on the way we are now.  I mean with just a few owning most of the global markets, we're so out of balance. We've lost the local."
"How do you imagine resettling the balance?"
"Hmm. Taking power back. Taking it back from the few who hold it now. I know that has to happen. Well, it's necessary and all,  but I don't see that going too well."
We drive on and I think of the many who have come and gone before this moment--those who have needed to resettle power--who have tried to resettle the balance.

II. Telling

There are two photographs I keep of my Da. The first was made in Maine while he was on a camping trip with my brothers and some friends. He is seated alone in a rowboat on a lake. He is holding a daisy in his hand. I called it his Hemingway moment. The light is harsh. It's the summer of 1967 and he's as still as the noon-day lake. Contemplative.

The second is of him 10 years later holding a protest sign at an environmental rally. The sign reads: "Hell No, We Won't Glow!"  Someone caught him turning towards the camera, chanting. He was protesting the U.S. government's attempt to dump radioactive waste in a woodland. My brothers and I would laugh when we'd look at this photograph as my father is wearing his customary black socks and sandals.  When we were teenagers, we tried not to walk alongside him when he donned what we considered ridiculous outfits. How could I have realized then that he was more Thoreau-like, walking to a drum he heard.

III. Stories We Tell

Well after we are home, I am thinking about the photographs and the car talk and consider that Milan Kundera was right. In small and profound ways, we all long for repetition. It is the longing for the known that makes us happy.

I think the repetition we most desire is realized, as it is revealed, in the stories we tell our children. It is these oral stories that give shape, in part, to lives.  Here, now, I want to believe that the stories my son hears from his father, his uncles, an elderly aunt, cousins, and me are what matter most. These stories represent a loving legacy we gift to him.

Family stories are all about the definition and the limitations of love. I wish my father had lived longer. I wish it with my full heart. I wonder what stories he would be telling his grandson.

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