A while back I shared a guest post from Dean Robertson about “home” – her recollections of her childhood home, leaving it, and returning years later. Since then that meditation has returned to me on occasion as I work on my next book.
The third book that I have set in the same river valley takes place about twenty years after This Old World‘s end. Some of the characters are still there, some are gone, and new ones have arrived. I’ve been thinking about the complicated emotions we experience when we see a place – our place – occupied by someone else.
Whenever I travel to Quincy, I like to drive by our old house on North 22nd Street, the house my daughter grew up in. For a while it was an unpleasant experience, as the house fell into disrepair (seeing its occupant appear in the police report was the low point). But now it has a new owner, bright shutters, newly planted flowers. So the drive-by is a cheerful one once again.
Still, it’s not my house any more. And even the most dutiful of owners is not me. So even positive change involves loss.
These thoughts were prompted today by the folks over at Damming the Osage, who posted a poem written by a gentleman not of my acquaintance, Rod Cameron of Raytown, Mo. It’s a lovely poem, followed by a reminiscence, of himself and his neighbors losing their land to the building of a reservoir. It’s a darn fine poem. Take a read.
What can we do with loss? Loss is built into our existence. Some losses are inevitable, but others (like the loss in the poem) are not, and we fight like devils to prevent them. In G.B. Shaw’s Major Barbara, a character says, “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something.” Perhaps that aphorism can be reversed as well. When we lose something, we owe it to ourselves to learn from it – or at least to make it into a poem worth reading.
And so I return to the last few chapters of my novel-in-progress, thinking about my characters and their losses and their learning.