Not two white knights, but two women in Subarus showed up at my house last night to move cardboard boxes of books, wrap dishes, pull pictures from walls. My troops arrived, complete with olive bread and cheese, with enthusiasm and laughter, with encouragement for my daughter who is graduating today from high school.
No woman is an island. Could I remember this more frequently? I could not have moved in these handful of days without your help; I’d be moving boxes and beloved pieces of kid-made pottery for weeks, like a solitary ant toiling, moving sand grain by grain. Thank you, again, for reminding me of the steady earth behind my feet.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent…
Running through the Atlanta airport – far larger than the Vermont village we live in – my 17-year-old daughter is the sharp one among us, pointing her younger sister and I through the crowds to the T concourse, up an escalator and a second one, laughing as we rush for our plane, breathlessly relaying how she ran in high heels last winter, alone, for the final flight into Burlington before a snowstorm.
In an underground train, the younger sister reads aloud, “Hold on when the train starts,” and then immediately asks, “Hold on to what?” Surrounded by people, the younger girl and I look up. We are both under five feet, and I stretch my hand up hopelessly for the overhead strap.
As the train lurches forward, we both clutch her older sister (a girl who is, as Raymond Carver wrote, a long tall drink of water), and everyone around us laughs out loud.
With a delayed flight, we currently remain in Atlanta, waiting with chipper Vermonters we don’t know but are beginning to, exchanging weather, geography, and history stories – beneath a stunning double rainbow.
She climbs into the yellow cab that is first in the line of yellow cabs. Henry is running now. He is at the window. She looks up at him – those eyes, unchanged, the pale blue of sea glass – and he stretches his hand toward the closed window and the cab lurches out into traffic, merging quickly, a damn sea of yellow cabs, and he tries to keep his eyes on the one that carries her, until he is no longer sure which one it is and a phalanx of them moves up Broadway and out of sight.
My teenage daughter hands me her high school summer reading book the other day and asks me to read a paragraph. She’s seventeen, wearing sunglasses and a new swimming suit, lying on the beach, and exasperated with this assignment. Her younger sister and friends swim in the lake, searching, faces down, for the giant rock named Big Yellow.
The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason. In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task. So why do they go and why do we care? They go because of the stated task, mistakenly believing that it is their real mission. We know, however, that their quest is educational. They don’t know enough about the only subject that really matters: themselves. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.
Thomas C. Foster, How To Read Literature Like a Professor
With enormous gusto, I keep reading, and then I begin laughing at the chapter’s end; the writing is that great. Then I point out to her, Look, this is about you: a young adult, beginning the quest of her life.
She takes her sunglasses off and holds them in her hand. I am? she asks. And then she repeats, I am.
I hand her back the school’s book and tell her gently, Literature is about you.
Raw. Mothering an adolescent daughter is like ripping a scab off your soul. My daughter’s agonized questions are existential: why do people suffer? What could possibly be the answer to this? A question I have asked since my own adolescence, more and more intently with each passing decade of my life, with each new encounter I have with the multiple varieties of human suffering.
Joseph Luzzi’s In a Dark Wood chronicles his young and pregnant wife’s death in an automobile accident. Luzzi, a Dante scholar, writes: My reading of Dante had always been deep and personal, but when I found myself in a dark wood, his words became a matter of life and death.
During both my children’s births, I felt myself poised between life and death, the scrim of our everyday world pushed aside in this small, sacred space. Surely, part of the keenness of adolescence is its odd pivotal place. Half in the clouds of childhood, not yet in the forest of adulthood, adolescence, for this brief (and yet simultaneously very long) moment, spins between these two realms.