Saturday, January 8, 2011

Winter Night, Winter Memories

The first Friday of each month, our downtown stores stay open late and people come out to eat and shop. The Symphony office, located downtown next to the movie theatre, stays open for the event. So last night found both of us headed out for First Friday.

I had a book to return to the library, a block and a half down the hill from the Symphony office, so I walked there in the gathering evening before coming back to help Warren out.

It was snowing lightly when I walked down, and snowing a little harder when I headed back up towards downtown. As I walked up the small hill, I could see the lights of downtown burning bright against the evening sky.

I was hit with a strong, cold wave of memory as those lights came into view. Not strong enough to knock me off my feet, but it jarred me all the same.

When I first came back to Delaware 20 years ago, I worked as an associate in a very small law firm in the heart of downtown. For reasons sometimes too twisted to decipher even decades later, I rarely was allowed use of the family car. Fortunately, we only lived six blocks from the office, and I loved to walk.

I last worked at that office 11 years ago, but I still remember, strongly, emerging from the building on an early winter evening onto the very same street down which I was now gazing. Street and window lights would be on, often it was cold, sometimes there'd be snow falling. I would walk home quickly, bundled against the chill, eager to reach the shelter of the house.

My thoughts would often be on the day I'd just left behind - the clients, the paperwork. As I walked, my mind would transition to whatever awaited me at home. In all likelihood, I had talked with my then husband and already taken an initial reading of his mood over the phone. I was too often tense over what probably awaited me when I got home, but that often propelled me to walk faster, not slower, to get the homecoming over with and to be there for my sons.

I missed my boys. I wanted to be home with them more, but as the sole wage earner, that was not an option. Despite the troubled household, despite the tension and pain that laced so many of the days, I gathered strength from the looks of their faces when I walked through the door each evening. I knew that for the next few hours at least, I could focus on Ben and Sam, the stories of their days, the bedtime books, the blissful look on their sleeping faces.

Last night's walk in the early evening brought back the feelings - the anxiety, the sadness - I used to wear almost every day but most especially as I walked back home each night. But it also brought back the bright moments: the joys in my children's faces, the warmth of a small boy snuggling up against me to hear a story or to tell one himself.

The poet Rilke, commenting on his decision to leave therapy, said "if my devils are to leave me, I'm afraid my angels would take flight as well." That sentiment applies to the past as well. The past is what it is and I cannot dwell too long in its deeper depths. But I can reach into the gloom and pull out the brightest moments, and those would be the times with Ben and Sam.

When I got back to the office, awash in these memories, I looked over at the bookshelf inside the front door. On it are rhythm instruments and a collection of children's books with rhymes and music and art themes. Most of the books are loaners from my collection. They are books that were interwoven through Ben and Sam's childhoods: Color Dance, Mouse Paint, Traveling to Tondo, Brother Billy Bronto's Bygone Blues Band (a picture book that magically features both dinosaurs and a train wreck, which automatically made it a hit with Sam when we first read it).

Looking at the titles, I could once more feel the weight of my boys on my lap, once again hear their quiet, rapt breathing while we read. Surely it is a prerogative of every parent of grown children to hold close such memories, especially when their warmth and glow are inextinguishable against the dark winter night.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely, bittersweet memory. Those moments of remembering come so unbidden as we age. The Rilke quote is beautiful...and without those demons, and the angels, would we be where we are today?

Sharon said...

I'm so sorry you were laden with so much pain. I'm glad you saw the moments that were joyful, and I'm really glad you are in a much better place!

Anonymous said...

i'm taking a quiet hour this morning lying in bed trying to catch up on blogs and you must know when i read this that i got a bit teary. in my own way i know all of this, being the wage earner, gauging moods, living with tension and anxiety. the joy of children to helps you get through. you are right sometimes something just stops you dead with a blast of memories.

i am so happy to know that you have those memories as do i and glad that you have this life you have now. your story inspires me to live life in a whole new way.

a friend of mine wrote this today on Facebook and it touched me when i read it and i thought of it again when i read your post here. she said:

you see the softening in people when they have been through a lot of pain as if they have been calmed by some huge storm in life.