Making one’s way through a given day can be challenging. Every person carries the weight of a lifetime, plus the gravity of current circumstances. As we return to more physical interactions with others, we may experience internal tensions in re-learning how to socialize with one another. After spending so much time in lockdown, it can be easy to feel unseen or alone in this world of thousands of voices.
In Vivian Gornick’s “The Odd Woman and the City,” she writes, “Most people are in New York because they need evidence –in large quantities–of human expressiveness; and they need it not now and then, but every day…If you’ve grown up in New York, your life is an archaeology not of structures but of voices…” Her memoir is about navigating the loneliness of living a fiercely independent life; exploring the nature of friendships; and it’s a love story of New York, dazzling with dialogue heard on the city streets. The reader gets the sense that while she is often plumbing the depths of loneliness, her life also feels robust thanks to the rotating cast of voices that fill her daily walks.
Recently, as I was leaving the library, my cloud of thoughts was interrupted by the words of a community member, who remarked that he enjoyed something I had written for the blog a few months ago. Words hold enormous power, yet it’s the sound of them, strung together in just the right way, that can transform your day.
A short while later, the woman who was checking out my groceries asked if I had a child who had gone to a local elementary school. “Yes, I do!” I hadn’t seen this person in eight years, when she was a teacher at an afterschool program where my daughter spent many hours. Excited to make the connection, she pulled out her phone to show me photos she had taken of the original group of kids who had all just graduated from high school. I reciprocated, and showed her a graduation photo of my daughter.
Gornick’s book opens with her and her longtime friend, Leonard, “a witty, intelligent gay man, sophisticated about his own unhappiness.” With Leonard, she has a sense of grounding. What she comes to realize, though, is that, “What we are, in fact, is a pair of solitary travelers slogging through the country of our lives, meeting up from time to time at the outer limit to give each other border reports.”
As we travel through the country of our own lives, may we all have the good fortune to share border reports with those who ground us.
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