If there were no Starbucks, I might freeze to death in New York City.
It was Tuesday, my New York City day, the air was bone-achingly cold, and I didn't have many classes. My teaching schedule tends to fall apart in December. And although I keep showing up faithfully, my students tend to get sick, flake out inexplicably or suddenly realize that, by golly, they are too busy at Christmas to study Spanish! Suddenly my schedule sprouts holes, unprepared lessons, confusions about billing, and other miscues of various sorts. So in the gaps between cancellations and hectic subway encounters in the frozen urban tundra, I seek refuge in Starbucks.
I am deeply thankful for free WiFi and hot tea.
FF and I are about to celebrate our second Christmas in Tiny Town and our first as husband and wife. This weekend, he helped me string up fir garland around the stone and timber walls of our pre-Revolutionary War living room, patiently looking for the nails I had driven with care into the old timbers last year. He hung the garland as I stood there holding the donut roll of connected fir boughs, fragrant like a sylvan feather boa. And as I stood watching him loop greenery around our cozy room, I suddenly had a mental picture of my Dad, now almost 11 years deceased, putting up the big old-style colored Christmas lights on the big yew outside Mom's kitchen window while she stood on the snow crackled lawn in her embroidered shearling coat giving him instructions.
That mental picture of Mom and Dad is one that surprised me. It was a "new" memory, if you will, one I don't remember ever having remembered before. Coming as it did in that moment of decking the halls of Casa Tiny Town, it showed me the continuity between my life now with FF and the world from which I come. For if there is a rhythm and logic to the life FF and I are building together, there is also another deeper logic that comes from our past and it provides a comforting synchronization between now and the other lives we lived when we were young trees. When I was a girl in the suburbs of Philadelphia, when I was still wondering who FF would be, I was watching this very scene unfold. Now here I am doing the Christmas decoration dance in another time and place, and it makes me feel as if I am living right.
There is a comfort to my life in Tiny Town with FF that is based on sameness. Our life has a schedule that involves our individual and cooperative activities: My Tuesdays in Manhattan, fish on Wednesdays, diner Fridays, welcome home notes, and countless small gestures and activities that through happy repetition make our life take shape and assume a form at once reliable and comforting. When we said our vows in August, the unspoken subtext was that for a long while now things are going to continue in basically the same way and that we two are really OK with that. This sameness is like a favorite record (yes, I wrote "record") that you've played hundreds of times before and, though the songs are always the same, the pleasure is new each time. In the soothing warmth of good love, I am finding out, the fun comes from observing the slight variations that emerge as we dance to the same old song.
Early on, before the wedding, the sameness of this rhythm here in Tiny Town irked me in a way I couldn't quite locate: I felt kind of jittery. Life was delightfully, annoyingly, enchantingly, maddeningly peaceful here! It was as if I were afraid that life would outrun me, as if there were something I was supposed to be doing but wasn't doing while I was here watching the leaves turn color and the river rise and fall. It was as if I could not feel truly engaged in Being writ large while quiet, as if I were going to miss my stop on the destiny train without the onslaught of the City's obstacles and energies. Constant change, of personnel and place, have been my life in New York City for the past 28 years. And constant change is not only inevitable, but also good, right? Keep pushing forward! Change keeps you young!
But I am no longer just about myself and my own quicksilver dreams: I am profoundly anchored to Love with a man who is himself as rock steady as a sustained G below middle C. Deep and kind, tired but tireless, he keeps a steady rhythm for me that quietens me. Is it this countryside or is it the man himself that soothes my heart so? No longer does the whim of change intrigue me, nor does it seem like the way towards any destiny worth having. I want to gather myself up like a thunderhead, like a great tree silently exploding from its roots in centennial slow motion towards the heavens. I want to feel my roots beneath me as I move with deliberate dawdle. I want to know the depth of my life, not just its speed, and see how it is always the same and ever-modulating in microscopic ways that I -- finally -- find worth noticing.
I no longer need a world tour to make me feel alive. I lose myself in the profundity of one single square foot of Right Here, Right Now.
Tradition, sings Tevya forever, tradition! I have discovered here in Tiny Town with FF that Tradition is not something that you do alone: You do it with other people, people you love. Tradition is not merely a series of parties and holiday shopping lists, but rather it is a conscious, cyclical exchange of feelings based on a continuity of identity and a shared passion with specific people. Now, in our first year of marriage and our third year of knowing each other, FF and I get to say, "Remember when...?" and we get to laugh together in a way that presages a future that will be equally, satisfyingly ours.
Somehow tradition never happened for me in New York City. People were coming and going too fast and they were too occupied with getting the project done, the better job, the invitation to the networking party, or whatever they were off trying to do. I, too, was coming and going too frantically to really know where I was headed. The spirit of strive and conquer, which is at the very heart of New York City's reason for being, discourages silent nights and it does not care about the quiet contemplation of one square foot of snow crackled ground.
Here in in Tiny Town, Christmas creeps upon us with a tree lighting in Revolutionary Square (our tree is about 15 times smaller than the one in Rockefeller Center), and a frozen hush that is so deep you can hear the very thoughts of the few passersby. When I shop on Main Street I get a 10% discount because I am a local, but I would shop here anyway just to share some encouraging smiles with the local merchants whom I now know by name and who continue to tough it out in this very contracted economy. The local weatherman promises a white Christmas, so I will pull a tarp over the short-cut logs from the old buttonwood tree we had to fell this autumn. Those logs will require some seasoning before we can burn them, I think. And I am satisfied that this pile will keep us warm. Next Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a very Happy New Year.