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|
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|