Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."

Thomas Wolfe famously said, "You can't go home again." This whole blog's been about that idea, really: the home you leave endures only inside you, buried somewhere within the detritus of the self. While you're away, "home" changes in your absence, and when you return, the meeting between the new you and the old home--both changed inexorably by your distance--creates a cognitive dissonance that most folks can't really overcome.

The 35th anniversary of the Omaha Tornado of 1975 was last week. My reaction to those memories eluded me until I got into it with my mom on Mother's Day. She and I are still mourning the death of my grandmother last summer, and last week we finally sold her house. Now we're trying to sort out the detritus of a 94 year-old woman's accumulated material life. That's a nice way of saying there's a ton of stuff in the basement we have to sell or throw away. Sorting through all my Nana's stuff reminds me of the inevitable instability, frailty, and mortality of human life. It almost makes me WANT to settle down and opt for some fake permanence as a balm for the anxiety created by last year's recurring experiences with death and transition.

But no. Not yet. I still have some stuff to do with my life, and sadly, I won't be able to do it here in Omaha. Once I finish my dissertation, I've gotta leave again.

But the past I lived in Omaha is a large part of the me who'll decide the future destination--and that tornado 35 years ago showed me at a very early age the fragility and impermanence of our lives and works.
The storm caught my mother at the drug store in the Westgate shopping center--about half a mile from a neighborhood that was quite literally leveled. I was at a day care at the College of St. Mary, a block away from a hospital that was knocked on its ass. The path of the storm ran right between us. My childhood home, my high school, the theater where I did my best work, and birthplace of my first child were all hit by that same funnel cloud; it seemed to blaze a trail in space that I would later follow through time.

I was stuck at preschool for a few hours after the storm; my mother couldn't drive the mile from the drug store to the day care because of the damage and the police lock down. She only got access to the area because an old family friend showed up with his hearse and told the cops at the road block that he was picking up a body. 

Now, 35 years later, I still vividly recall my realization that a single flash can blow away everything that seems so solid and intractable. And you know what? Sometimes that's a good thing. Wounds, traumas, and griefs can be just as ephemeral and transitory as those buildings.

I'm not only grieving  the loss of my grandmother and grappling with her house. I'm also lamenting the absence of my California friends. Some of them are really suffering now, too. Permanent certainties have fluttered away on the breeze. Relationships end, careers disintegrate, families implode.

But one enduring certainty remains: the wind. Obsessive, haunting, inescapable wind. As Shelley called it:

"Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!"

If my wandering Davis friends see this post, I think they'll understand its conclusion: "I have waited with a glacier's patience...."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, Eric. It's a good one, and one that I needed to read right now.