Changing Places

I have changed places.

I am in Greenwich, CT for 48 hours.  It feels like I never left.

In my house,  several forlorn Christmas decorations stubbornly remain, like the sign in the kitchen: “Santa, I can explain“.  The wrapping paper is still out on the counter lying next to the scissors and a nearly exhausted roll of tape.  I awake early and watch the sunrise, alert due to the time difference.  In Lucy’s absence, flocks of geese have reclaimed the backyard.  Lu will have her work cut out for her when she returns in July.

I drive to the bagel shop for breakfast.  I am on auto-pilot, and I feel as though I could take this journey blindfolded as every speed bump, every light, every cross walk is ingrained in my memory.  On the way, I stop in the dry cleaners and chat with Cliff, the owner, as if I just saw him yesterday.  I cut through the framing store, and one of the employees looks up and says, “He’s not in today”, knowing that I always visit Marcos when I stop by.  At the hardware store my favorite employee asks about Lucy.  He keeps dog treats hidden in the back room, and Lucy always greets him with shameless “suck up” kisses.

Later, I visit the girls’ old school.  One of the maintenance staff waves and says hello in immediate recognition.  Teachers greet me with smiles, students swarm around Jackie, and the afternoon pick-up line becomes like a wedding receiving line in which I happily dispense hugs and hellos.

I surprise my old singing group with a visit as they practice.  It is at once familiar and strange as I know the old routine, but I do not know the new repertoire.  I long to join them for a moment and take my old seat in the Alto section.

I get a call from my dear friend who is stranded in Wyoming after a storm delayed her travel home.  As fate would have it, I am here and she is not.  But I find myself running an errand for her, picking up her son’s costume for Colonial Day at school tomorrow.  He will be sporting his tri-corner hat in the morning, and I will be long gone to the land of the red coats.

I see friends everywhere I go, and every mundane place becomes the site of a mini-reunion.  It is nice to know people and to be known, trading the detached anonymity of a big city for the warm embrace of a small suburb.

I am reminded of the words of David Lodge, an author who wrote the novel, Changing Places.  In his book, two professors switch jobs for a year, swapping lives and careers on campuses in California and England.  Cultural differences ensue with both comic and tragic implications.

On the very first page of the novel, Lodge writes that an expat:

“is connected to a native land, place of employment and domestic hearth by an infinitely elastic umbilical cord of emotions, attitudes and values — a cord which stretches and stretches almost to the point of invisibility, but never quite to the breaking point.”

David Lodge is speaking at my Comic Novel Literature class today, but I will not be there to meet him.  I long to tell him how this one sentence resonates with me.

The “umbilical cord” of innate connection to home does stretch as we seek the freedom of new adventures but never breaks as we are bound to the culture that defines us.

I have changed places, but I have not changed.

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