The anticipation of home is upon us all. There is an eagerness in the air every night at feeling check, but I find myself wondering what are we all looking forward to. Something familiar? Something simple we know like the language in the background? Will it matter that there are no familiar pictures on the walls of our home? That our kids will not be able to access their beds or their toys or those clothes they tucked away so many months ago? The ones that no longer fit, but that are missed somehow, nonetheless. Do they look forward to knowing all of the buildings in that town? To recollecting their personal histories there? I wonder what ties us all back to place.
It is not, perhaps any one thing or person, but the familiarity of it all that we miss. We are tied to the place and the people, even the strangers back home who now feel more familiar than most anyone we’ve encountered in the past several months. They have a communalism with us that is shared in a language and a knowing of the dips and bends in the roads; in the way home. It is known in the work around of the one-way streets, which we would never head down in the opposite direction. They have a resonance in your bones, that resonance which we share together, and with so many others who happen to live in that sweet little college town. What it is to know this place so deeply and to actually miss it, quite apart from the people we love there, or the things we have not had.
Things have become unimportant to this clan, by and large. I don’t miss things. I don’t even miss my coffee pot which makes my warm memories before I open my eyes and keeps it hot the whole morning long. It’s hot until I’ve ingested my fill and to my husband’s dismay leave a cup or two lingering as I dash out the door to work. Those extra cups I make every morning just in case it was a heavier experience than anticipated. That pot has been replaced with the simple ritual of boiling a pan of water on the stove and pouring it into the press. There is no kettle here, only pans which can be used for many purposes. Waiting for the bubbles to appear dancing at the base of the stainless, turning off the burner and carefully pouring it over the waiting grounds. Going about my morning and waking sleepy kids while it sits, waiting for the moment to gently press those grounds through, the liquid already much cooler than I’d ever call mug-worthy at home. The same cup will carry me through lunch-making and kisses goodbye. It will carry me into my writing time, Labradors collapsing on one another for the heaven of music and candles in a quiet home. The heaven of enjoying presence instead of things.
I do not miss my clothes, I’ve come to appreciate just having some that are not thread bare, and the time savings of having only three choices: casual, business-casual, or sweats. Only one outfit per category, there is no standing at the closet wondering what is right. There are only the steps of pulling them on over recently de-slippered feet. I don’t know, actually, how I will go back to having overwhelming choices again. There are not those that fit me a bit better at the beginning of the winter, before the holiday weight gathers at my waist band, and others which hide those indulgences. There is no need here. Our life with no cars affords us the luxury of tens of thousands of steps each day; allows us the pleasure of somewhat constant toning in bodies which are finally being used the way they’re meant to— to transport us and carry the things we need for everyday living back from the grocery store and school.
I don’t miss those cars, not even the times I can turn the music way up and sing at the top of my lungs. I do that here, as I walk to and from the tram stops, not caring a smidge that there are gawkers. Most can not understand my words any more than they can catch the tune in my tone-deaf offerings of cultural assault. This loud American quiets herself on those trams though, and I’ve come to treasure the 30 minutes or so of uninterrupted knitting as we bend through the baroque architecture lining the streets of this gorgeous place. I don’t miss filling the tank, or the isolation of the bubble I ride through town in. I don’t miss not feeling the rain soak through my coat on the way home, or even the cold which sometimes gets all the way in my bones. I am appreciating the wonder of the weather, of experiencing deeply each season as it comes.
I don’t miss our too-big house, as I’ve come to treasure our compact little thousand square feet of usefulness. The doors which separate space from space, the gathering of different groupings in various spots in our only common room. The knowing of which room is to be used for what purpose. I don’t miss not being able to find the children, and having to walk through room after room to find them. I treasure that they are in one of three places now, rather than having to guess which corner they might have made theirs for the day or just the moment. I don’t miss that house I thought I could never give up, or really much of anything in it.
What I miss is the treasured faces and the souls behind them. I miss the laughter of good friendship. I miss having friends who know where everything in my kitchen is, and will just go ahead and open themselves another beer while I finish cooking. I miss the experience of sitting bare with my true love in the warmth of hot water under star-lit crisp December Indiana skies, the snowflakes getting caught in our lashes before the steam melts them. I miss the long, dreaming conversations we have there— solving world problems, and finding brilliant ideas pouring forth for building our little clan into our next adventure.
I miss the hug I get from the host at the Uptown, his warm smile and gentle barely-African accent telling me how his children have grown, asking when I’ll be back again before I’ve even sat down. Indeed, I miss being missed, I miss the lack of anonymity, I miss the culture of offering hugs and warmth. I miss having people who want to know the truth— how am I really? I miss knowing and being known, but I don’t miss owning and having.
If this is what it is like to have sabbatical, to redefine what is truly important, I would say we have achieved this grace. As I look down the Christmas lists of our children, offered after much coaxing, the items they wish for this year are reflective of our changing hearts. A new water bottle to replace the one lost earlier, to take the place of the soda bottle he’s been repurposing in a land where every restaurant charges mightily for table water. An insulated mug to keep her a bit warm with tea on the walk to the trams in the morning. A pair of jeans, the old ones have grown a little short lately. A new scarf. A little something to remind me of Dresden, the place that is teaching us the value of being known, and the meaninglessness of the things money can buy.
As we hunker down in the town we love and miss, I wish you a very Merry Christmas from our clan to yours. May you be surrounded with all the things that really matter to you this year.