I wrote a version of the following essay two years ago. Some of you read it when I published it here on my blog. But it always rankled. It wasn’t…what I wanted it to be, so this fall I revisited it, revised it (with some wise and helpful words from my dear friend Susan), and sent it to Lancia Smith at The Cultivating Project, who graciously received it and published it on her site. It’s still not quite what I want it to be, but it’s much closer than it was, and I’m (mostly) happy with it. If it sparks in you even the merest hint of a longing for Home, I will consider it a success.
Somewhere in eastern Montana I finished reading Gaudy Night. With a sigh I closed the book and stared out the train window. In the westering light, green and gold fields rolled away from the tracks in undulating waves clear to the horizon. My eyes smarted, and something in my chest ached. The train’s whistle blew, a plaintive song fading into the distance.
The curve of the sky above the train and the fields seemed taller than my urban eyes were used to, bluer, more three-dimensional. The clouds puffed their tops into the dome of the sky, like snow-white pastries rising in a celestial oven. I held the closed book between my hands, unshed tears pressing against my eyes and aching in my chest. The book was over, and I’d lived with these characters for almost 500 pages and had come to love them; I wanted to keep on living with them and loving them.
But it was more than just that. For as long as I can remember excellent books have almost always left me feeling a bit bereft, as if I lost a part of myself, left it in the pages of the book. (This is perhaps why I reread books religiously: maybe I subconsciously hope that I will find the part of myself that I left behind.) Or maybe it’s that a truly great book enlarges me, and by the end of it there is a hole, an aching gap between who I was before I read it and who I was once I finished it. Maybe it’s both.
I watched the fields roll by. As small hills appeared in the distance, dark blue against the brighter sky, a nagging awareness tugged at my attention…