Friday, January 8, 2016

seeing


1. Over the river, through the woods
On Christmas night, I drove from my sister’s house in northern Jersey to my parents’ along the edge of Pennsylvania. My nephew Andrew begged to come along instead of waiting until the morning to drive with the rest of his family. The night was dark and damp. The first leg of the journey was a straight shot on highway, rain pouring onto us only occasionally. When we reached the end of New Jersey, we drove through a small town lit up by holiday lights, then turned onto a tiny bridge to cross the Delaware river.

The rest of the drive would take us on winding roads through Pennsylvania countryside until we arrived at my childhood home. Andrew sat so quiet and still behind me that I wondered if he was still awake. Night felt like a heavy blanket around us that Christmas lights and approaching cars poked tiny holes into. At one point, I saw a deer along the side of the road, so still and peaceful in its gaze that later I wondered if I’d imagined him.

A few days later, I would make the same drive back, only in daylight this time. I saw everything I hadn’t known was there by night. Small brick ranch houses with cars parked in their driveways, wide open fields that stretched into the distance, small silos on farms that stored what had grown over the summer. Trees that seemed to show their age in the midwinter, naked of leaves. It was everything I might have guessed was there. My childhood made me familiar with these surroundings. And yet, I was seeing it all new.

2. Glasses
I was the last to wake up that first morning at my parents house. I shuffled down the stairs in my baggy pants and hooded sweatshirt, hood up, covering my messy hair. I wore my glasses, as I usually do after I wake, waiting to put in my contacts until I cleaned myself up later. My mom and dad and Andrew watched tv and talked in the den while I brewed coffee. It trickled and spat slowly into the pot, and I tried to keep myself from cursing the old, neglected machine.

When I joined my family with my mug of coffee, my dad asked me about my glasses. “Do you wear those for show?” I had bought the new pair over the past year, since the last time I’d seen my dad. He seemed to be completely earnest.

I had to remind him that I’ve needed glasses since third grade. “I just normally have my contacts in,” I said, self-consciously pushing my glasses further up my nose.

It made me laugh to myself and, later, text a friend: “I think my dad thinks I’m a hipster.”

I wondered, as I so often do, how my dad sees me.

3. An exercise in seeing
Later that day, my sisters and their families arrived to celebrate Christmas. I had my family each pick the name of another out of a hat. A little while after, we sat in a haphazard circle, nearly outgrowing my parents’ den. Each held their slip of paper with a name on it. Kids exercised patience and stole glances at the gifts waiting for them under the tree. But first, we would each share one reason we’re grateful for the person named on our slip of paper. It was an exercise in seeing. My mom expressed how thankful she was to Tim for being such a good husband and father to her daughter and grandchildren. Tayte had picked his mom, whom he said he was glad to have read to him. Andrew announced to everyone that he likes me because I’m “fun, and full of happiness.” I told my dad how much it means to me that he wants to talk about my trips to Kenya and asks me lots of questions about my time there.

As each one shared, some with more words than others, I looked first at the person speaking, then at the person being spoken about. The words help me to pay attention. Living so far away, I sometimes forget to really see them.

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