A Simple Yearning for Home

Julia Cumes - birdsToday I am wearing my red shoes.

I spent yesterday in a fog as thick as one might see on a spring morning over the Vineyard Sound. My weekend back on Cape Cod hung around me like a shroud – a thick blanket of memories that warmed me even as it muffled the world around me. I couldn’t find joy in the days at home with my family for all that I felt compelled to mourn being away.

Last evening I went to visit the woman I can only describe as my “healer” – a small, undervalued term to describe someone who has helped me immeasurably and who does amazing work with energy that I am just beginning to understand. I spun her a few tales about my fears of leaping out of a settled job and the feeling of urgency to start acting to change the world on a piece of land that I love so well and several other theories about why I felt so off balance in the face of making this theoretical move. That’s when she laughingly and forcefully informed me that all of these intellectual reasons for why it might be hard to go back to the Cape even though it seemed to be the right thing to do in many ways was, frankly, bullshit.

“You want to go home. It’s as simple as that.”

And she is right, that is what I want, and this new existential dilemma is rooted only in the basic yearning for something so simple that I can barely credit it. I am meant to be a complex, cerebral creature who is ready to adventure across the world and send back post cards to mom and dad, not be the one down the street who drops by for tea on a random Tuesday afternoon! The place I came from – the ocean that perfumes it, the winds that buffet it, the tourist traffic that plagues it – finally that arm of sand is making itself known as integral part of myself, an essential, elementary force in my life.

When I stop spinning through the little dramas I have concocted around how difficult it will be to color outside the lines and construct a life somewhere with a reputation for expensive homes and few “good” jobs, I will realize the problem with my desire to be back where I began is not about the logistics of modern existence. It is about understanding simplicity and the recognition of the power of home and a voice deep inside of me that says “I want.”

The problem with dipping into too many spiritual texts and self-help books is that you are often left with any number of conflicting pieces of wisdom and nonsense. With the little I know of Buddhism, I can reject such wanting as too much attachment. But then, how many books are written to help empower the individual to cast a dream into the contrary winds of life and dare to chase it.

I will surely be grappling with the spiritual ramifications of want for some time, but for now I am comforted (if still more than a little surprised) by the sweetness of declaring I am more like Dorothy Gale than I ever imagined.

Kansas, Cape Cod, whatever. I am on my way.

The Revolution of Compassion and Other Impossible Feats

Visiting my parents this weekend, I was greeted by a black lab who couldn’t contain her joy, Mom’s cooking, and a pile of junk mail from the various progressive organizations that will continue to have my childhood address on file until I retire. Eyes half open after the late night four hour drive from New York to the Cape, I flipped through the envelopes from NOW and Ms. Magazine and the Sierra Club. There was a small promotional booklet from The Sun, a magazine to which I had once subscribed with the best of intentions (I think there is a small unread stack in a closet somewhere).

The first thing I read was an excerpt of an interview with a fellow by the last name of Edwards in which he said:

“It’s not enough to just sit there and have compassionate thoughts. Your compassionate thoughts need to be reflected in what you do. How can you aspire to compassion and yet work for an arms manufacturer? You need to help other people. […] Once you start to see through the myth of status, possessions, and unlimited consumption as a path to happiness, you’ll find that you have all kinds of freedom and time. It’s like a deal you can make with the universe: I’ll give up greed for freedom. Then you can start putting your time to good use.”

As I said, I was exhausted and we had been listening to campaign coverage for most of the ride. I got into bed wondering why I never realized that John Edwards was such an amazing person, not just some guy who seemed to mention being the son of a mill worker more often than was necessarily interesting or sincere. The next morning, I was ready to read my mother this quote and tell her that we must have really missed something when it came to this man’s campaign. I was ready to bemoan the fact our country was just too taken with special interests and big money politics. I was ready to think that “Yes we can!” was an empty slogan compared to someone who talked about finding freedom through renouncing greed.

Before I started a rumor that virtue was still valued over power somewhere on the national scene, I realized this interview was with a guy named David Edwards. The passage was from a June 2000 interview with a British writer who had walked away from his corporate destiny and began to dedicate himself to “spreading ideas that challenge our culture’s destructive illusions.” Please do check out the piece – I think he just blew my mind a little, but it will take a a little time to let those ideas (all of which I had probably heard before) fall into the shape of an epiphany.

Am I suffering the pangs of cruel disillusionment when I realize that the words above really probably could not come from the mouth of an individual as firmly entrenched in the political machine as an American presidential candidate? Does it just figure that something I found so simple, true, and insightful comes from a man thought mad because he gave up so many of the accustomed Western privileges and luxuries? Am I saddened that countless people whom I love would shake their heads at my quaint, bleeding heart liberal, idealism should I bring one of his books along on vacation?

It is just becoming alarmingly clear that the sort of vision that appeals to me, that seems the only correct, possible way to be a human being in the 21st century is neither easy nor popular. It scares me to realize that I might be ready to accept that challenge. Almost as much as it scares me that I will not.

A Path to Someplace

The seaweed fingers of the ocean laced themselves through Friday night’s post as I dreamed of a Cape Cod childhood. The specter of all I didn’t really appreciate living with the ocean so near to my door sweeps ever closer as I delve into the essence of place.

pathWe are steeped in the language of landscape – after all, this corner of the blogosphere is stated to include notes from a spiritual quest, and what is a quest if not a journey along a path? Only one part of me envisions a trail through a forest; the rest of me relies on the abstract – images of neural pathways or a trek up a spiritual mountain with little reference to reality. We have reached a point where we move through life without ever risking blisters as our feet never touch the ground. William Blake’s vision has been realized in so many ways: “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”

So often in my life I have lived this creed, devouring poetry for the sway of the verse rather than to feel the rise of the hill being glorified on the page. We can discover countless aspects of the planet with such speed and alleged accuracy, but still I am left to wonder if I have ever actually seen a moose by the side of the road or if I have just watched the opening credits of Northern Exposure often enough to feel I have that big mammal all figured out.

At last I am beginning to realize that my moments of greatest unhappiness (often after heady flushes of joy) generally swallow me when I am most oblivious to the cycles of nature, the constant spin of birth and death that exists well beyond my narrow scope. It strikes me as strange that we can completely forget the ground beneath our feet. Does a sailor ever forget the ship that keeps him from slipping into the sea?

These considerations come at a time when my husband and I talking about where to set roots for an eventual family. Back to the Cape, back to Europe, some foolishly warm part of this country, or perhaps just embracing the community in which we currently find ourselves. There are so many factors that would inform that decision – occupation and livelihood; the proximity of family and friends; whether residents of these new places would seem to be “of our tribe”; is it too hot, too provincial, too landlocked? What would it mean to make the decision not only in light of such practicalities, but because of the pulse of a place, the language of the land itself rather than the vocabulary we have thrust upon it?

Finding My Fins at the Foot of a Mountain

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebackward/I was born a Cape Cod girl with salt water in my veins (though I would not realize this until the ocean was no longer a mile from my door). I discovered my fairytale soul and soaked it in romance on Prince Edward Island (not recognizing until later the dangers of treating my teenage self with such painful earnestness). I became a Galway girl and parodied the Normans to be “more Irish than the Irish themselves” (not that I would have owned that dubious distinction at the time). As the shine of childhood and collegiate entitlement began to dull, I resigned myself to be someone caught between being a chameleon and a fish out of water and lived in a few landlocked spots that meant nothing to me at all. I have tried on more than a few guises and landscapes trying to find my own true home. Now, after nearly four years in a little town in the Hudson Valley at the foot of a ridge that leads to the Catskills I am beginning to realize aspects of myself beyond ocean and nation and alienation. At the same time, I am also able to recognize that the identity I forge is still built from the stuff of sand dunes and sea grass.

More and more I am coming across references to the essential nature of place and the way that location is an active participant in the events of one’s life. In so many ways this is a quaint notion that seems to apply to people who find joy in composting or who hail from a line of wisewomen and men stretching back to time immemorial. It is a luxury that seems to apply to people with large families in spots that are either too idyllic to leave or too destitute to escape. As I read about the vibrancy of some seem to see in their homeland I wonder at the privileged and the blighted few who enjoy such intimate knowledge of each stone and leaf.

Somehow in reading such texts I forget that I grew up with a list of my top five favorite beaches – one had the best waves, another the best sandbars, another the best rocks upon which to figure out the allure of sunbathing (this redhead has still to sort out that mystery of adulthood), etc. I was raised by people who chase across our peninsula on the three or four most perfect nights of the summer to see the sun set and the full moon rise on opposite sides of the sky over different faces of the sea. Just last weekend my mother and I rolled a busted buoy far further than might be considered sane to enhance a driftwood and debris sculpture and make part of that Chatham shoreline our own.

Woods Hole Research CenterI spent eighteen years on a world famous arm jutting into the Atlantic with parents who love to sail and collect heart shaped rocks and still don’t mind if the dog jumps into the water minutes before getting back into the car, and somehow I have managed to feel disconnected from an authentic sense of belonging, from a place that seemed to know my name as well as I knew its.

Now we can point to a global society riddled with modes of communication that has afforded us the ability to eat strawberries in February and play Scrabble with friends in Budapest in the middle of the night as the source of this separation from the land. This new parallel existence has also allowed us to trade organic “place” for self-determined “space” so that we get to define our world rather than letting it define us. I know that I gain infinite wealth from this wired world, just as I profit immeasurably from the first frontier that separated us from the earth around us, the printed page. At the same time, I am beginning to realize the reciprocal relationship that exists between me and the corner of the planet that gave birth to me as surely as my parents did. Nature is calling out to cradle us as sweetly and as strongly she always did, if only we are willing to listen.

The next mystery to sort out is how loudly the waves are calling me home…