Saturday, 9 November 2013

In the Distance: Our Day, Their Night

Our nephew Tommy in Baltimore has always been fascinated with the idea of it being day somewhere else in the world when he settles in for the night. "Is it daytime in Singapore?" he'll ask on Skype as I walk to the bright window to show him the sunrise. He's usually in his jammies when he asks, and that settling-in time for the little ones is a nice time for the adults to reconnect, even if it's just online.

When Patrick's theme, "In the Distance," came across my desk, I was really inspired by what he wrote about Oscar -- being all the way "over here" when other things are "over there" is something I've struggled with as I explain things to our third-culture 9- and 6-year-olds.  The most fascinating element of it all to them, though, is this difference in time -- that we are always in a time zone so far removed that it feels like another world altogether.

So I thought of night. And I thought of home. And I thought about how much has changed, what stays the same, and what time gives us and takes away from us. Even the taking-away is a gift, but it takes a lot of meditation to see it that way.

Fells Point, one of my favorite old neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland, is one part of home for me that never seems to change too much. Sure, new condos rise each year, and Charm City is always reinventing herself, but Fells is, well, Fells. Any Baltimorean will tell you that.

We'll travel "home" for Christmas for the first time in six years next month. In the distance, we'll feel cold air, we'll sip hot coffee, and we'll walk those streets. On the waterfront, as I'll be careful to not trip over the cobblestone-padded train tracks, I know I will find our spot that we visit each year as we meander through alleyways and see the old row houses sinking more deeply into each other as the years pass on.

But one thing I won't hear is Mom saying on the phone at our old family home, "Don't worry about coming in late, honey. We'll leave the light on." She always said that when I'd get in after she and Dad settled in for the night. And all the Christmas traditions I'd hoped I could show my kids this December aren't there anymore with Dad's passing and Mom's move. Sure, we can invent some new ones, but knowing that those traditions are permanently in the distance is really tough to process.

Art helps.

Art helps because I can imagine it. I can even reinvent the idea of home on the page and imagine she's there in that bottom window switching the light on as she hangs up the phone. We never had a house in Fells Point, but I could draw it as if we did. 

In the distance, sometimes we create myths and legends to soothe a longing for the past. Maybe she'd become a new character who talks to the ships as they come in and go out, whispering promises into the wind that she'll leave the light on to welcome him back from the sea. 

Or maybe I'll just wait until summer in Florida to see the light on next to the shuffleboard court at her new place in Florida -- I know she'll be there.

And as for this Christmas, we'll have these lights in Hampden, the artsy neighborhood we first lived in when we met in Baltimore, which will be a scream for the kids to finally see. Mayzie doesn't remember them (she was 2 when we had our last Christmas in Baltimore), and Charlie was only 3 months old). Miracle on 34th Street, indeed.

"34th Street." Flickr, 2006. Web. 10 Nov 2013. 


  1. Dang I wish there was a "like" button on blogs, because I'd be all over it with this one, Michael.

  2. Knowing the story is so important. So important. Thanks heaps for sharing yours. This is just ridiculously beautiful and universal. We're all nodding our heads and sorting it out with you.

  3. Heartfelt and universal. My mom (or dad) always kept the light on for us too -- and that safety sign of love lives with me still. Beautiful art ~ beautiful reminder.