I cracked open Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home a couple of days ago, and, thanks to tonsils the size of small plums in my throat, loud drumming in my ears, and Benadryl, I finished this lovely, lovely memoir quickly. It left me deeply envious of Caldwell’s writing skills, and deeply in awe of the power of love and friendship. It’s the story of her friendship with Caroline Knapp, and about the strength, self-awareness and meaning intimacy brings to our lives. It’s about what they shared, about what they lost, and about the ocean of grief Gail was thrown into with Carolyn’s death. It’s about the losses we think we can’t bear.
Caldwell, much like my therapist so often has, reminded me that we only think we can’t bear our losses, that we can in fact bear them gracefully when we put our minds to it. And though life goes on, we never really get over the losses–we absorb the holes left behind into our very cores. They shape us profoundly. Our task is to embrace the core sadness of life without permitting it to keep us facedown in defeat. Our task is to allow the ordinary and quotidian joys and sorrows to be more heavily weighted and more alluring than fear and grief.
The rugs of Navajo weavers, I learned, carry a mismatched thread intended to release the energy of the rug and the story it holds. It is called a spirit line, and it paves the way for the next creation. It is the flaw that reminds us about hope. All stories worth holding on to contain a dissonant colour, a thread that points the way to the next story.
We lose so much over a lifetime, loves and dreams and hopes and abilities. Some die. Some corrode in acid rains, and remain like that on the edge of our awareness. Some become geographically difficult. Some are meant to be only for a short time. Some, unable to withstand the weight inherent in so much, fade into ghosts over the years. Some, genuine but infinitely complicated, live best deep within. Some sleep for a season, and then bloom again.
What matters is the love, whether tangible and present, or lost and now carried only in our hearts. What matters and fortifies us and gives it all meaning are the shared vulnerabilities and misunderstandings and naked honesties of friendship and love, because these, when handled with gentleness and generosity, cement us to each other, and to ourselves, and to the earth.
It was perfect timing for me to read this wise and beautiful memoir. It is April after all, and April in Edmonton isn’t exactly pretty, or conducive to pretty moods. It is April in which I most need to be reminded that I live here not for sunny days or the promise of sap, but for the roots I have here.