May 2013, our first home

There is something about September that makes me wistful and nostalgic. Maybe it is because summer's long, lazy days are behind me, and the season's brilliant light has softened to golden fall sunshine.  Every autumn reminds me of the back-to-school days of my childhood, and it's the time of year I most miss Central New York. Autumn is a much shorter season there than where we now live, and I think that is in part why its beauty was so striking there - a few brief weeks of dazzling color, cool days, brisk wind, and the hard cold of a starry October sky before wintry weather commences in November.  This time of year especially, I miss my old neighborhood haunts, the many walks to playgrounds and coffee shops, the nearby lake and it's beautiful trails, our great friends, and most of all the short fifteen minute drive to see my parents. 

We moved away from our first house, that little 1950's cape, over a year ago - has it really been sixteen months since we resettled in southeastern Pennsylvania?  It happened quickly - news of a job opening, an interview, and within weeks our house was on the market and we were on the hunt for a new home over 200 miles away. It was hard to say goodbye to that little place to which we brought our babies home from the hospital, and where so many memories were made, the setting where we'd envisioned the next phases of our lives. Here, we have a beautiful home, my husband's family nearby, cousin-playmates for our kids, and some of my closest lifelong friends within an hour's drive. I love being closer to a big city, and I am enjoying the milder climate (last winter's weather notwithstanding). I am finally starting to feel settled. But there is still so much I miss.

One of the many, many things I learned about myself through this transition was that I am far less adept at change than I had previously thought myself.  I am not the flexible, adaptable creature I had imagined myself to be.  Last winter, when the adjustment to our move felt particularly challenging, I happened upon a beautiful book whose wisdom has stayed with me. Katrina Kenison's The Gift of an Ordinary Day had so much to teach me about change, a sense of place, re-imagining one's life, and cultivating a consciousness of the beauty that is the present.  Faced with her own move away from the familiar to the unknown, she writes:

"In a way, I wish for everything back that ever was, everything that once seemed like forever and yet has vanished . . .  I allow, just for a moment, the past to push hard against the walls of my heart. Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things. It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we've loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone. It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings. It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.” 

It was a difficult realization to come to, that our new house could never be what the old house was to us. It wasn't just the house itself, but a time in our lives that it represented, that was so difficult to release to the past.  It was easy to romanticize even the most annoying quirks of that 1950's cape - the doors that never quite closed completely, the crooked cupboards, the drafty walls - because of the stage it symbolized, and it kept me from doing the hard work of grieving, and letting go to pave a path toward moving on.  Not just to a new house, but to a re-imagined life full of relationships whose dynamics had changed.

As Kenison and her family navigated their own move from one life stage to another, she writes:

"One thing we've learned ... is that a house is not an end in itself, any more than 'home' is just one geographic location where things feel safe and familiar. Home can be anyplace in which we create our own sense of rest and peace as we tend to the spaces in which we eat and sleep and play. It is a place that we create and re-create in every moment, at every stage of our lives, a place where the plain and common becomes cherished and the ordinary becomes sacred."

What a beautiful thought. 

Our new home, only five years old, is a light-filled and open space.  It is beautiful in its way. But upon arrival, it felt stark and sterile with its all-white walls and shiny brass doornobs. It felt a little lacking in the heft of history an older home possesses. There was not a shrub or flower anywhere in the yard. Some of the toilets still had their fresh-from-the-store stickers.

We unpacked our belongings, we painted and arranged furniture with the help of our family. Three days after moving in last May, we hosted my daughter's first birthday party.  In the subsequent months, we've each had more birthdays, we hosted Thanksgiving with my sister and her family, we gathered around the Christmas tree, and we have been christening this house month after month with meals, gardening, baths and bedtimes, dancing and stomping feet, tears and giggles. It is the living with all its noisy, beautiful chaos that creates a home out of four walls and a roof.  Home is being present, practicing attentiveness to now, being here, seeing here. And so, here we are, still settling in to both a home and a life.  And when I am gracious and patient enough with myself, I understand that this process will take time, and that that is okay.

In the entry hallway of the new house hangs a framed copy of the photo above, of our little family of four as we said goodbye to the old house.  It is a way to honor the ending, and make room for the beginning.

I have been inspired by "The Here Year" project I follow on Lindsey Mead's blog.  She focuses her thinking and writing on being present, and this year each month she reflects on being "here" in a different way. Lindsey's theme for September is time; mine is "home."

September 2014, Eli's 5th birthday


Bethany said...

Such a sweet post Anna! I can relate to the feelings you have shared, as we have been back in PA for 6 months. Things are starting to seem more normal, but nostalgia can get the best of me! I think I will check out that book too.

Lindsey said...

Oh, I love this post - and am so honored to see that you're reading. The Gift of an Ordinary Day moved me immensely and is for sure on my shortlist of favorite books. All of Katrina's writing touches something really deep and still inchoate inside of me. So glad to have found your blog. xox


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