“Home is where one starts from. . .We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” Taken fromFour Quartets by T.S. Eliot
The world-altering events of this fall have caused us all to pause and examine our priorities and life experiences. We mourn with fellow citizens who have lost family members and intimate friends in tragedy. We worry about the uncertain future of world peace and national economy. We acknowledge changes in airport and other public transportation surveillance as a result of tightened security measures. And we question the safety of our air, our food and water, and even our mail as Anthrax is delivered in envelopes. However, even as our comfortable sense of security erodes, we have an opportunity to acknowledge the blessings in our lives. Relationships and privileges that may have been taken for granted are viewed with value and appreciation. People are reaching out to others, and we’ve seen a unification of American citizens. Sometimes, it takes an absence to fully appreciate a presence.
About six weeks ago, I wrote an Insight on family transitions. . .musings prompted by my son’s departure to college. In response, my son, Will generated some observations of his own during his first week of college life. I offer them as a juxtaposition of perspective in this week’s Insight.
A little background is appropriate before you read his words. Generally, my approach to family vacations has been to seek the least expensive way for our family to spend the designated time together. I research discount airfares, look for bargain hotels, and gravitate to ‘family package’ venues. Over the years, my more charitable friends have euphemistically attributed these characteristics to my strong “Scotch-Irish sensibilities”. This past summer, I took a dramatic turn from this tendency. Considering my son’s impending departure for college and the attendant uncertainties for future family vacations, I shocked my family and amazed myself by proposing a trip to Paris, France. The decision was premeditated and involved a bit of ‘Scotch apprehension’ on my part, but once made, it seemed to be the right one. And, in retrospect, it was a wonderful decision. The travel allowed us to experience a vibrant city in a foreign country as a family. It was educational in scope, rewarding in family intimacy, and has provided all four of us with lifetime memories. At the time, I realized it was a wonderful, irreplaceable experience. . .and in musings now. . .I see it almost as a dream.
We flew to Connecticut to deposit our son, Will, in his college home on a warm Thursday morning in late August. This trip occurred just two weeks after our 8 day Paris adventure. From midmorning until late afternoon, we hauled boxes and suitcases up the dormitory stairs, opened a bank account, searched for post office, classrooms, and dining halls, and bought textbooks and rudimentary supplies. Two weary parents left our son amid the clutter of boxes and bare mattresses as we departed the campus to the peaceful shelter of a nearby hotel. In this setting, I offer you Will’s thoughts to follow. . .
“What the hell. . .it’s pink”, I said as I dropped my duffel bags on the sidewalk in front of the appropriately named Little Dormitory, which was going to be my home for the next year. I took the wrap around path past the stucco facade of the building, past the luscious, manicured lawns of Trinity to the little wrought iron fence that runs along the boundary of the campus. Across the street, brown townhouses with boarded windows loomed over me like a broken mountain. Studying the deformed landscape that lay before me, I realized that this was not my neighborhood with women in spandex jogging down the perfectly aligned sidewalks, these malignant brown growths in front of me did not house my neighbors, and this pink thing where I would live was not my house.
At home I have light green walls and cream-colored drapes that attach to the molding with little golden hooks. I have a porcelain sink with a marble countertop and a white tiled shower with four kinds of shampoo. I think about these luxuries when Doug on the third floor does cartwheels at two thirty in the morning, sending flecks of ceiling paint floating onto my soaked brow like jagged snowflakes. And when I am standing in line at the campus store to buy green flip-flops to wear to the bathroom because my feet are burning from wading through murky puddles to reach the shower.
Today, I did laundry for the first time. It took me four hours and cost me three dollars, which had to be paid all in quarters. Before today, my clothes had always magically appeared on my guest bed pressed and folded divided neatly into colors and whites.
I have a small photo album with pictures of postage stamps on the cover. Before I slip into my unmade bed at night, I look at the silly expressions and forced smiles in front of Versailles, the Louvre, or some other stone building that serves as the backdrop for my family.
When the lights are off and the floor is quiet, it is easier to hear the ambulances and police sirens that shriek down the empty streets. But inside the pink walls of my dorm, I am oblivious to all the whining and yelling. I think about my classes, Friday afternoon, Saturday night, and pictures from Paris as I fall asleep.
William M. Hines
Stephen L. Hines, M.D.