If Goethe is right, and architecture is frozen music, home is a song we have learned by heart.
My friend reminds me that learning things by heart insists upon rhythm, the heartbeat, and that the experience of the present moment is rhythmic.
One beat has to end for the next to begin. And like his favorite piano concerto, we don’t know when this note ends, and there is much tension in the space before the next. And life is marked by a gentle sadness when that moment ends and dissolves into the next moment. That, according to Bugbee, life is haunted by a continual parting. Proust says these moments are connected to places that also don’t exist anymore: “The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues, are as fugitive, alas as the years.”
And that was the fugitive feeling I have had recently. First, I was at a dinner where a friend made a lovingly-prepared pot roast. Tomato and herbs infused a slow-cooked meat I’ve not experienced since I was living in my childhood home. The warm, familiar smell wrapped its arms around me as I sat in this modern-day apartment, just as my mother’s filled our evening home when I was a child. The smell invoked something so palpably nostalgic that one part of my self remained in a distant past even as I carried about in the present-tense conviviality. My friend sitting next to me also was piqued by the memories of childhood dinners; someone who I happened to have first met when I was 6 years old. We have witnessed each other grow and shed several versions of ourselves, though there is something from which we struggle not to stray.
It recalls Gadamer’s notion of festival — that there is an enduring in the perishing. There is continually a moment that we wish could be retained, held onto for just another moment longer, even though it can never be. It is a “consciousness of human frailty,” when we are aware of the rhythms of our life and the fact that they end. “Every festive joy, yes, every joy, is perhaps the other side of an inexpressible, unutterable.” And every beat of the heart is inseparable from its opposite — silence; nothingness.
And then I gave into the urge to drive by my childhood home this week. I was in the area, where a chaparral dustiness meets the crisp coastal breeze and tugs at me. As did the autumnally-filtered light of a sun beginning to arc lower in the sky. And there predictably sat the home on the corner of middle-suburbia covered with mature trees and gridded off by narrow streets. The house, like the area, is shinier and more regal than the more humble and equitable times known before Silicon Valley bubbles and exorbitant housing prices. The home was still incredibly intimate, yet completely estranged from me — the current occupants undoubtedly using it in their own way in a sort of betrayal of the past. Because, like everything else, my home had to give way to their home. Like the tightly woven, straw nest that fell off the side of our house a few months ago. Next to it was a darkly stippled egg, intact, but belonging now to the unknown.
The nest fell from the eaves of my new home of the last 13 years. Soon, as with every year, the winter flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows and their one loyal Fox Sparrow friend returns to our feeder. One year our cat in her boredom slaughtered the Fox Sparrow, and after I grieved its dark, hopeless body in my hand, I decided not to slaughter the cat. A few years later, a new Fox Sparrow somehow rejoined the flock. I’ll never know how.
This is the home which presses itself into my son whose foundational memories will be part of the architecture, as the architecture is part of his psyche. And eventually, the most eventual fact of all, my life will give way also. So dramatic-sounding, I know, but the remembrance of which always relates to Heidegger’s astonishment that I exist rather than not, that leads to Hamill’s loving a little bit more, because one of us will die. And the moment when the stars begin to burn through Mary Oliver’s sheets of clouds so that I may write about it here, with words that are little houses, as they dissolve away also. That things come and go, it brings about wonder:
“Celebration … is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder — the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know this. – Martin Heidegger, Polt