Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Going Home

     With this title I do not mean any symbolic way home--no pilgrim’s return to his homeland from far-off lands; I mean the entirely ordinary and everyday trip home; a trip which one could almost undertake with eyes closed: straight on here and around the corner and across the street and left and right and there we are. I’m thinking on a trip which we undertake with the eyes of our attention also closed, which we undertake out of habit, inattentively, mechanically, proceeding step by step into our own footprints. No one discovers the world when taking that daily trip home. Similarly, no special thoughts occur along the way. It is as though one’s own thoughts are falling back into the footprints of yesterday and the day before.

     But once in a while a man meets with a cosmic occurrence on the way that switches him suddenly onto a different track. A sudden rain strikes and the pedestrian finds a brook in place of his own footprints which he must jump over; going home seems a bit fresher and becomes an invigorating adventure. Or the wind comes up and the walker must struggle against its malevolent opposition, gaining ground step by step, as if conquering his own home. Or the path is covered with black ice (whereupon I have finally gotten at my actual subject). Yes, once in a while (especially overnight, when nothing can be done about it) freezing rain comes down like glass, except that no one stumbles so much over glass, glass not being so treacherously uneven, and also since it would be impossible to make such a quantity of glass—that stands to reason. And when that slippery ice stands between you and your home, then (after a few unsuccessful attempts at normal walking1, at sliding uphill, at gliding or of finding firmer footing) you realize a few more or less unaccustomed things in regard to the walk home.

1. That there is something like mountains and oceans, deserts and abysses between you and your house (even though it is just there around the corner and across the street), thousands of dangers, difficulties and cursed places, and that the ordinary walk home can be something like an expedition to distant regions as yet untouched by human feet;

2. That your house is something like a castle on a glass mountain, which gives it a certain inaccessibility, but also a special and purely magical beauty;

3. That there is something in the old sayings, such as “finding yourself on a slippery slope “ or that “it is not good to lose the ground beneath your feet,” and “east, west, home is best,” or “look before you leap”;

4. That undertaking even such a small piece of the trip home means putting one foot in front of the other and that even a small step forward is a measurably meaningful success in life.

5. That your house is truly a safe haven where a boat tossed by a storm can cast its anchor and say “ahh, that’s better,” and that safety is perhaps the closest thing to that which we call happiness—among other reasons, because you don’t normally realize it.

     All these things considered, a man returned home has a new outlook on those down below him still outside and trying to get home. Oh, you people look like a mule on ice! Isn’t it just hilarious how they look like ants crawling around down there?



1 Growing up in Vermont I was taught from a very early age the proper way of "walking" on ice—a foot-shuffling maneuver designed to minimize the potentially catastrophic impact of putting your foot down onto a low-friction surface. My mother and I (and, I’m sure, many others) find it humorous when we come across others—even other Vermonters—who never learned this trick, and enjoy teaching it to them. Here in Santa Cruz I have absolutely no use for this. Someday again, though.

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