By Catherine DiMercurio
Many people have been inspired by the line Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend, “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” It struck me today too, as I came across it again.
Recently, I was texting with my firstborn, about various things, but the conversation turned to the idea of home. Several months ago, I helped them and their partner move from the house they’d been living in with too many college housemates into their own place, one of those quirky Ann Arbor apartments comprised of a collection of rooms in an older house. It is cozy and suits them. My child was telling me that they finally have a place that feels like a home that is their own. This delights me: my child feels safe and happy, in their own place, in a healthy relationship.
Less recently, though it still feels like yesterday to me, I moved out of the house I’d lived in for twenty years, raised my kids in, lived the best and worst years of my marriage in, into this little ranch house in a different suburb, not far away but very far away from where I used to be. And I only feel that my new house is home some of the time. I do love what I’ve built here, that this house is a reflection of my personality, filled with books, watercolors, pottery, artwork from friends, and dogs. It is cozy and it suits me. But sometimes, it doesn’t feel quite exactly right. It’s like a newish shirt you mostly love but when you put it on you remember that the tag is itchy. Sometimes. Other times, like now, everything feels safe and good, happy and peaceful. It’s early morning and I’m drinking coffee from a mug I threw and glazed myself. I’m snug under a blanket I crocheted years ago. The puppy is cuddled up next to me. I’ve decorated a small tree—my solstice/Christmas/winter magic tree—and strung up some colorful lights. I feel lucky. I have created peace and stability for myself in a way that several years ago I wouldn’t have ever thought possible.
When I feel restless, or have that what am I doing here feeling, I know where it comes from now. When loneliness hits, it is usually from two directions. One is from the past, from the part of my life where I woke up in the same house as my children for the first 18 years of their lives. I don’t think it matters how full your life is as an empty nester; part of you is always aware that the loss you know was coming is happening. That empty space takes up space. The other direction loneliness attacks from is from the future. We all have points in our lives, after the loss of a meaningful relationship, where it feels as though the future we had anticipated is being erased, like an Etch-a-Sketch turned upside down and vigorously shaken. As new relationships unfold, we wonder, is this the future, beginning to take shape? When those dissolve too, it feels like starting all over, with the future blank again.
I also keep forgetting that “the future” is not a single fixed point. It is hard to embrace the idea that nothing is really fixed, as in, a single unchanging point in time, and fixed, as in finally and fully repaired. Everything is in perpetual motion, our healing, and where we’re headed. What happens next is the same thing as how am I continuing to grow, and it appears in my mind like night, with a sky full of stars, and I’m out wandering, with my lanterns.
And all of this is tied into the idea of home for me. The house I currently live in blinks on and off, in a way. It feels like home, and then it flickers, and the feeling fades, and then it’s back on, steady as ever. What I’m beginning to realize is that it is less about this house and how long I’ve been in it, and whether or not my kids have lived here, and more about me being at home with myself. This feeling is getting stronger and stronger with me, after years of faltering, and looking for home in someone else. I didn’t even know that feeling that way about myself was possible, or important, until recently. It’s beautiful to think of home as either where you were raised, or, being with the people who love you regardless of your physical location or place of residence. But feeling at home with yourself, knowing that you are the safe place and you are the someone who loves you, that is something else entirely. I love that this is happening for me, that I finally thought to look for it, and that the feeling is becoming fuller and steadier.
Sometimes when I’m out with those lanterns, I’m not really looking for myself anymore. Sometimes I’m feeling found, and I’m just enjoying a starry walk with myself. But I do know that everything changes, especially selves, and that I am no more a fixed point than anything in future. So, to some degree, I’ll have to be out looking with some regularity. Sometimes that’s a scary thought and sometimes I’m just tired, but it feels important and necessary.
I keep returning to these same ideas over and over but sometimes we need to keep hearing the same message, whether from ourselves or from outside sources, multiple times as we learn and grow and acclimate ourselves to new ways of looking at things. For me, this is part of being open hearted. To grow, I need to be patient with myself, with the way I learn and the pace at which I learn. So I’ll be out there with lanterns, as usual. Maybe I’ll see you there.