Tuesday, March 1, 2016
When It's Time to Come Home
I grew up near one of the world's largest cities, but my home, itself, was on an island. Large, but an island. While that island did boast actual sand on some of its beaches, what covered the remainder of the territory resembled something closer to powder than dirt.
One of my earliest memories of home was set during those summery twilight hours, that dreamy time of day when mothers popped their heads out the kitchen door to call their children home for bedtime. That was in the long-gone era when it was children who had playmates, and it was considered safe for them to play outside. I had been sitting on the ground, out in our backyard, with some friends and while we talked, I absentmindedly was picking up handfuls of that delightful, powdery texture and letting them pour through my fingers onto my knees.
Suddenly realizing, one of my friends gasped. "What are you doing? You're getting dirty!" This, from a four year old. Her mother had trained her well.
"So? I'm having a bath when I get called in." I liked the sense of the powdery plumes of dust pouring over my skin—just as much as I enjoyed the squeaky-clean coziness of cuddling up in my own bed at night. There was no conflict in those two states; they were made to exist sequentially. At least, that was the routine in our household. I was so nonchalantly confident of my parents' perspective.
As it turned out, I was right: I had the bath, but not a bit of grief over my besmudged appearance.
It wasn't until years later—more like decades—when the thought struck me how odd it was that one child was so certain of the dire consequences of the very action which was inconsequential in another household. After all, that's what baths were for, wasn't it?
Mulling that incident over in my mind in these far-removed, adulty years, I've come to see a number of other memories attached to that bedtime ritual, that twilight time when our parents came outside to call our names, to tell us it was time to come home.
More than anything, I've realized that each of us had different ideas of what our parents' expectations of us were. And that each parent represented widely divergent expectations.
Mostly, I realized the peace a child feels when he or she not only knows those expectations, but does them. Whether others judged our actions as right or wrong didn't matter. It's all in how we responded to our own parents' wishes—and lined up with them.
When all is in its rightful place, the call to come home can be a cozy, welcoming moment.
Though that memory lingers from my childhood, I realize, too, that adults face a time when they are called home. While some holler "Coming!" in answer to their call—yet keep right in the game they are playing—and some vainly attempt to renegotiate the appointed time, there are some who slip away so quickly, so quietly, that we miss that quick "See ya" before they headed home.
Yesterday afternoon—in broad daylight and in a hospital, even—that's exactly what our friend did. With hardly a warning—definitely not the throes of the sometimes-expected last struggles of life's finale—the man who had fought cancer for fourteen long months checked out so quickly, even the ones sitting at his bedside hardly realized it until it was over. When it's time to come home, some still can make that journey like children confident of their parents' wishes.
Above: "Train in the Snow," 1875 oil on canvas by French Impressionist Claude Monet; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.