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Roots and Seeds

If you are a reader, you probably know the feeling.  Having moved from one house or apartment to another, you find yourself wanting to take down a particular book, and you know exactly where it is... in your old home.

That kind of phantom access, to a world that is no longer there, is more and more familiar to me as I age.  So often I will catch myself in a reverie, thinking of a friend or vista from my past... and somehow, the past feels like that misplaced book: I know exactly where it was, and it is a struggle, sometimes, to remember that I will never again walk down the halls of my old high school (they've torn the building down) or jump off the swingset I had as a child, or crawl inside the hollow log that used to lie hidden in a wood that is itself, no longer there.

The past feels present to me, and I reach out my hand for it, only to discover with puzzlement over and over again that it is gone--at least, gone in the shape I knew.

Last spring, we lost a neighbor.  This Samhain, we got a neighbor again, though of course, not in the shape we knew.

Image, Wikimedia Commons
Joyce and Pat lived next door when we moved in to our house, and had lived there long enough to have tales and stories not just of the seller of our house, but of the owner before that, a man named Eddie who loved to garden as much as Joyce did.  I can point out specific plants of hosta around the neighborhood that passed from Eddie to Joyce to someone else again, and I have plants in my garden that were planted by Eddie that I gave again to Joyce, and plants that she gave to me.

It is strange to contemplate the things that live on when we have gone.  Gardens, neighbors, houses... everything constantly growing into new shapes, new forms.  I type these words at a desk in the office I share with my husband.  Before we lived here, it was the office of a small non-profit.  Before that?  The tie rack still hanging in the closet says that it was Eddie's room, the master bedroom he and his wife once shared.  What use they put our bedroom to I do not know... nor whether the Gail and Nancy whose names were written on the concrete under the rotted-away oak paneling in the 1960's basement rec room still live nearby, or even live at all.

What I do know is that the present rests always on a foundation of the lost past.  By joining a neighborhood, I join myself to years of past I never knew, and become part of them myself.

And it's not just me, of course.  The process of new life moving in where the old has ended is all around us, all the time.  Where Pat and Joyce lived last spring, another family lives today.  Like Pat and Joyce, they are an older couple; unlike our old neighbors, they have children who visit them often and already have rooms of their own, a swingset, and a full set of toys out in the yard where Joyce's last autumn flowers have just finished blooming.

It is strange to think that I have seen the full year's cycle of those blooms, and our new neighbors, whose home it is, have not.

It is stranger still to think that Joyce will never see those blooms again, nor hear the laughter of the children playing on that swing-set, or the barking of their dog. (Joyce would have liked the dog; I feel very sure of that.)

And it seems strange to have a knowledge--a kind of intimacy--with the family's home, but not yet with the family itself.  I almost feel I ought to look away, avert my eyes from what is familiar to me, and not yet to our neighbors.

But it does not seem strange to have watched these changes come at Samhain.  It is not in the spring that seeds are dropped to earth, after all, but in the fall.  The old plants die, but the new life is planted even before the winter's snows.

I miss Joyce; I'll probably always miss her when I watch her flowers blooming, and miss her more if ever those flowers are replaced by something else.  And still, I have the strangest illusion of time, as if I could reach out, lay my hand on just the right shelf, and there she would be... and Eddie, and Nancy, and Gail, and all my childhood friends and neighbors, too.  (My nursery school teacher, who always owned a great dane dog, and always named him Thor... Tina, whose wedding shower was the first I ever went to, and who died before either of us was twenty-five... My high school guidance counselor, a family friend who was gone before her death from Altzheimers.  Are they really gone?  Can it possibly be true?)

Red Fallen Leaves.  Pixie from He
It doesn't feel like the new life in my neighborhood supplants the old, however.  Instead, it feels like a reminder of one long, long continuation, like a river moving always past its banks, never returning, never still, but always there.  Leaves become the forest floor, become the loam, the root, the leaves again, and somehow,  if we only knew how and where, we could reach out and touch them still.


ThresholdMum said…
Lovely evocative post Cat. I am particularly reminded of the friends and family who taught me certain turns of phrase. 'Fair play now' (my Auntie Nesta, who would say it in Welsh, 'chwarae teg nawr te', 'Pick yourself up and dust yourself down,' Caroline, mum of triplets, etc.
Oh, I love the Welsh! Thanks, ThresholdMum.
Unknown said…
This post was beautiful and sad. I'm not the kind of person to look back, only moving forward whenever possible. It makes it easier to embrace change but when a read other's works and considerations, it often makes me a little melancholy. Could I have held on to x friendship longer if I'd struggled more instead of cutting ties, was y dream so beyond my reach at the time or could I have compromised and gotten something?

I love my live and my home and those surrounding me, but that doesn't mean others I've lost couldn't be here too. We're all pushed forward in this world and not always together. It's nice sometimes to remember all the little connections we've made that aren't with us along with everything we have with us.
Well said. Off late I am having the similar feeling as I age too. Having lived in India, US, France, Singapore and now Malaysia it seems like I do not belong anywhere.

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