Monday, November 20, 2017

Sing Me Back Home

Play this one at my funeral

How did it get to be late November, already? Last week winter hit New Jersey after a temperate autumn so fast I've got whiplash. It's getting dark before I get home, and I feel the drafts creeping through the windows at night. Now all of a sudden it's Thanksgiving this week.

Riding the train home from work today while almost passing out from exhaustion, I realized that I have not been home for Thanksgiving since 2008. I haven't seen my parents on Thanksgiving since 2010. While I am glad to have new traditions with my wife and her family, I am feeling homesick this week. Last year I was so disgusted by the election that I did not want to go home, my anger was so great at the place that raised me to despise the kind of man it embraced. After a year of insanity, my anger has been mixed with a healthy dose of despair.

The problem with holidays is that we replicate the rituals year after year, so that we maintain a kind of uniform memory of "Thanksgiving," rather than individual memories of specific Thanksgivings. When we can no longer replicate the old rituals, due to distance from family or many of the participants passing on to death, a feeling of great loss creeps in. My grandmother died four years ago this month, and she was the central figure in my mother's family's Thanksgivings. Now that she is gone that side of my family has broken apart on the rocks of resentment. Today I would not be allowed to visit my grandparents' old farm house due to these conflicts, which is my own personal banishment from the Garden of Eden. In any case, so many of my cousins and aunts and uncles I would love to see have also scattered, just like me, from Oregon to Colorado to Missouri to Alabama.

But even so, I miss Nebraska at Thanksgiving time. The landscape is awash in almost painted colors of golds and browns, and the flat stubble fields, now bereft of corn, allow one to see from horizon to horizon under a heavy, limitless sky. It is a place where you feel in thrall to nature, where Thanksgiving time often brings fearsome ice storms, surprise blizzards, and blasting winds. It is a reminder of our smallness in our universe.

Instead I spend my days working in New York City, its stone and steel having driven nature beneath the pavement, its existence a rumor. The natural world is present in Central Park of course, but that's more of a theme park, neat and tidy. I come home to New Jersey, and the dead television gray of its November sky over endless subdivisions and strip malls. Here the work of humans feels impenetrable, everlasting, and all encompassing. In Nebraska it feels transitory and frail. Beneath the skyscrapers, it is indeed frail, and we all could use a reminder of that, New Yorkers especially.

Last year I directed anger at my home state, finding its support for Trump irredeemable. This year, seeing the pathetically inadequate response in the areas where he is not popular, I've come to the correct conclusion that our entire country is at fault for this mess, either actively or passively. With that in mind, I long to be home this Thanksgiving, but I know in my heart of hearts the things I seek to find, and many of the people I associate with it, are lost and gone forever. So I will enjoy my time with my new family of my own, and make traditions for my own children to cherish.

No comments: