Saturday, March 03, 2007

Reflections on a Visit: Locating Ourselves and Moving on

Entry for 3 March 2007:

My mom and sister Anna left this morning to fly back to California. They were our first extended visitors and the first family members to visit us (a KU Leuven Ph.D. student named Jutta Schnellbacher stayed for a couple days earlier in February). In a way, hosting them solidifies our being here by making us a base, transforming us from transients/visitors ourselves into locals ourselves.

And of course we are becoming more local day by day, as we learn the city. For example, today we visited the Botanic Gardens for the first time. I’ve been running through them for months, but never stopped to look at anything; I was just another transient, passing through, like all the people who use the footpaths there to get themselves from Kelvinside to the Byres Road area. Well, today we actually made a visit. This required either walking, which we didn’t really have time for, or figuring out where to park the car (behind and west of the park, up next to the River Kelvin). What we learned is how extensive are the tropical plant collections in the glass conservatory buildings, which just seem to go on and on: orchids, begonias, bromeliads, cactus, tropic food plants etc. It was enchanting and overwhelming… and only a mile from our flat. Part of being a local is knowing stuff like this.

Much of how I localize myself is by running, and of course by talking and listening to people. One of the Human Resource people at the University referred to “short-leeting” candidates for the research clinic manager this week. I have a really good English language vocabulary, but I had never heard this phrase before. That’s because it’s a Scots word, from the noun “leet”, meaning a list, especially a list of candidates. But it is a word in formal Scots, not informal or working class Scots which I have be concentrating on; it always startles me to run into these!

Diane, however, seems primarily to localize herself by playing host for others. She took Anna to Edinburgh and Stirling on the train; and she organized a series of taxis to ferry the three of them to the University of Glasgow library, the Kelvingrove Museum, and the Saint Mungo Museum; she took Anna shopping on several other occasions. For my part, I drove us all to Rosslyn Chapel and the Edinburgh Labyrinth, and I took Anna around the neighborhood and met the guy in Peckham & Rye, one Hyndland’s many liquor stores, where we got introduced to the art of whiskey-tasting. And we located ourselves more broadly in Scotland by taking my mom and sister to Kilmartin and the Borders. In the process doing these things, we were becoming localized in ways that wouldn’t have happened so quickly if we had just been on our own. Hosting transforms one into a host, and that grounds and locates. So their visit changed us by pushing us into becoming more grounded and competent in our community and locale.

But there was a deeper process of carrying forward at work over the past two weeks also. As they were preparing to leave this morning, we spoke a bit about how the visit had gone, and we noted that we had all gotten to March again, nearly completing the circle of the year since my dad died last spring equinox. Spring is already coming here and in North California; the snow drops have already bloomed and the daffodils are a week less away from blooming also. It has been a year of wandering for us, of travel and pilgrimage. My mom has spent most of the year rotating through Anna’s, Willy’s, Louisa’s and Joseph’s houses; Diane and I have packed up our old lives and moved to Scotland. Conal, my number 2 brother, and his partner Holly are planning to move to Murray Creek in April. So Diane and I were the last stop on my mom’s journey. The repairs on her house are almost finished, and within a week or so, she will be moving back to Murray Creek on a more or less permanent basis.

But it seems that before that could happen, she had to come to Scotland to carry out her understanding of what my dad wanted her to do. When she was just about to leave, as we waited in our close (that’s the shared hall/entryway/stairs of a set of flats) for the taxi , I asked her if she’d had any more messages from my dad, since the trip to Scottish Borders. She started to say, “No,” then paused, thought again, and said, tears in her eyes, that he had asked her to take care of me and to let me know that he loves me very much. We hugged. Then the taxi came up, and they left. I think that somehow, after all our journeying and struggle and tears over the past year, we are all more grounded and located in what our lives already moving into, as another year turns and spring begins to begin. To play on a quote from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “In our beginning is our beginning”…

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