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The Day I Finished Hannah Coulter
first thoughts on memory and going home
The day I finished Hannah Coulter, I went, alone, to the house where I grew up. Empty for the evening. The quiet of it—the absolute only hum of the fridge and the occasional breeze through the wind chimes, given as a gift at the passing of my mother who lived there and died there in the room right beside me. I watched her leaving. I saw the moment the life left her eyes. And I could never forget it.
There is a something, a concentration of memory—joy and sorrow, mingled, grief and love and laughter that is nowhere else for me on this earth. A place can be a container for memory. Memory can be there, up on the shelf, and you remember it is there, and you see it sitting there often enough. But you take it down one afternoon in the late slant of a golden afternoon, in the quiet place where the shadows of your childhood once played upon the walls, in a hushed and holy stillness. You are ready to look.
And you take off the lid and are rushed in upon by memory so strong that a vase of bleeding hearts, freshly cut and arranged like a concise poem, sets you standing in the kitchen, weeping. The gratitude and joy of being alive, of having lived a good life, of childhood and siblings and once not knowing the things that now weigh on the heart and mind.
I made myself a cup of tea, though I didn’t drink tea in the 22 years I lived there. I learned to love that later, at the same time I learned to love a man and make a new home where two become one. Of course the love for that man began in the the first house. That is where I found myself falling harder and faster than I meant to. Where I asked myself if I was crazy for it, where I tried to talk myself out of it a time or two and failed. Happily failed. Because I now live in a home that is to our children what this house is to me.
*This is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote sitting at the table in my childhood home on the day I finished the exquisite Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Such a life-changing book in the quietest of ways. I am especially struck by the love story, told in so few details but leaving me with what I know will be a lifelong impression of two lives becoming one.
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