Friday, March 25, 2005

Temporal displacement

What's the difference between holding onto the past and being anchored by your roots as you move forward in life?

T and I are on the Cape for a few days, staying in her family's summer house on one of the small, semi-exclusive peninsulas off the Falmouth coast. A former boathouse, the cottage is grayed and rambling and full of interesting nooks and crannies. It also houses three generations of memories, embodied by tarnished monogrammed silver, yellowed photos and an overwhelming sense of place. T's great grandparents bought the house in the late 19th century and her family has been coming here ever since. It's just like the book I read last month, which is about a house that's across the bay.

As soon as she walked in the cottage's door, I could see her relax and reconnect with herself, with the person she was when she spent summers running around in her swimsuit, racing Beetlecats and drinking on the beach with the other kids on the island. She knows who every person in every photograph is and she knows their life stories. She knows where she comes from, but right now she can't see where she's going. At the same time, she knows she can't stay here forever. It's too small now.

When I was little, I used to dive into the pool at my parent's health club and see how long I could sit on the bottom before my lungs got tight and I had to get more air. The bottom of the pool was the most beautiful place to me. Blue and sparkling with refracted sunlight, it felt like so safe, as if nothing bad could happen while I was down there. No one could reach me or hurt me (unless they dove on my head). As I got older, I realized that, like the bottom of the pool, the safe places in life can only be visited. You can come home. You can reconnect with your history, but you can never really come back. Even the old haunts have to be made new again.

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