I went home to the east coast recently, and the sensory memories and reminders awakened a deeply embedded longing for home, familiarity and rootedness. It was early fall, with that particular fall smell, and the leaves were just beginning to turn.
The unmistakeable accent (as in: can I have a glass of "wooder?"), the smell of Philly cheesesteaks and really good Jewish deli food. It was almost as if the Mummers String Band was playing quietly in the background of my mind. We all squeezed around the kitchen table with my 95-year-old great aunt wearing her brightly flowered shmatta, telling family stories.
When I am back east, my family members tell me I talk differently, and I ask embarrassing questions like, "Is the food organic?" I can barely get a word in during most conversations, because I've abandoned the culturally and regionally familiar habit of interrupting. Often I am the quietest person at the table, and they think something is wrong with me because I'm not jumping into the conversation and talking over people.
I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for twenty years, and still there is a part of me that knows I'm an outsider here. People can tell, although they usually think I'm from New York because I use Yiddish and talk with my hands. I also went to college in the midwest, so I have a longstanding love affair with the flat, sprawling farmlands of the midwest. When I went back a few years ago to visit, I gleefully went out to the expansive campus lawn after dark, lay on my back and marveled at the stars in the blue-black night sky.
Consequently, I am always missing someone as well as feeling connected, welcomed and alienated, feeling both comfort and longing.
and then I understood
the wisdom of the deer
secret of my own dignity
all I have ever been
is all I will ever need
I must look back
respectfully awaken the hero
my personal journey
the whole story
is where the treasure resides
excerpt from "When Wisdom Came"