Grasping at straw houses.
“Man's mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches little trivialities together and gets a result - such as it is.” - Mark Twain
I started this site with the idea of exploring both the physical geography around me and the mental geography (and invariably history) that gets tied to it. This year has left me feeling a strong sense of loss in this regard. Not a personal tragedy, not a death, but passages in your life coming to end. One was anticipated, one was not. In many ways they may seem trivial but they left me with a feeling that I had never expected nor experienced before. The next few post are going to explore memories, loss and the places around us.
One thing that you learn quickly in life is that nothing lasts forever. As a child, losing a family member or a pet becomes the first in many lessons. There are always many questions following a death. Adults will do their best to explain the loss in the form of a logical explanation, spiritual reasoning or some nonsense about Skippy the Goldfish going to live in the country with all of the other goldfish. Wait.... what??? The one that you end up staying behind will become part of your own personal dogma. If you chose the goldfish you are probably a lot happier than the rest of us. Those beliefs and ideas that take shape at an early age are the hardest to shake off. The thoughts that have been with you as long as you can remember are in many ways like the people and places around us. Try imaging your life without them. Try to do anything without thinking about them. You can't. You can't because they are as much a part of you as your blood and bones. They are stuck in your head as firm as your first memories. Mine are of my paternal grandfather who died when I was 3. I don't remember a lot about being 3 but I do remember him very clearly. The two things that stick out the most are his strong hands and his gentle words. That might not sound like much to you, but to me it is quite a lot.
We take all of these memories and attach them to the people and places around us. Losing one of those places, losing someone who shared the memory makes the memory seem less real. On the surface it feels threatening and makes you realize that these memories are as mortal as you. Underneath it is another little jab to the gut reminding you how finite everything and everybody really is. You don't believe me? Have you ever stumbled across a photo of a loved one who has died? Did it stop you in your tracks for a moment? Did it remind of you of something you had nearly forgotten? In many ways the places around us are the same.
Many of you have probably experienced that amnesia that occurs when driving over a stretch of road that you have been on a thousand times. All of the curves, dips, bridges, side roads might be mapped out in your head. Trying to remember one uneventful drive from the next is an exercise in futility. Then one day you are on your routine drive, half of your brain on something else when all of a sudden you come around the corner and exclaim "Woah! When did they tear down the old service station?" Or, "How long has the former Co-op building been a call center?", etc. A constant in your life has become a variable. I am not sure how the math works but I do know that takes some getting used you. Your eyes will fall on this change every time you travel past it until you finally get used to it. Just like your tongue seeking out the newly vacant lot that used to house a now extracted tooth. Once the novelty has passed it becomes part of the scenery.
In a few cases the destruction of a place may be viewed favorably. Something like a P.O.W. camp or the Berlin Wall, or a house where a violent crime was committed are a few examples that first come to mind. That isn't what I am trying to touch upon here. As I glance at the calender and see a very big anniversary less than 2 weeks away I realize that this whole topic of place and loss is timely. I hadn't planned it that way but I guess it is on all of our minds at some level. The sight of two larger than life towers burning and falling into the streets of Lower Manhattan is unforgettable and still, somehow unfathomable. A loss on that scale is hard to accept. They say that New Yorkers never look up. That day everyone was and wished that they hadn't. I wonder how long it took or will take the most jaded of New Yorkers to stop looking for two phantoms looming over the place that they once stood.
My phantoms aren't nearly as big or as tragic but they are around. I'm sure that you know of a few too. Next time I will discuss some of the shake ups to my physical landscape. One of them gone but still so strong in my memory I can hardly believe that it is gone. The other half a world away lying broken and silently awaiting its fate.