Friday, April 29, 2016

Presence makes the heart grow fonder

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

But does it, really?

We drove up I-95 to Philly last weekend, and as the skyline began to peek up over the industrial graveyard that is the 20 miles between Wilmington and Philly, my heart had a few extra pitter patters. I love Philly; it feels like home, still. As we walked through the streets all weekend I felt comfortable- the way I feel when I pull off work clothes and step into running shorts and a sweatshirt. I suppose as I think about where I might want to live in the future, and feel absence from a city I love, I feel fondness. But it's nothing like being there, being present. Presence makes the heart grow fonder.

I went for a run today through DC. I've always enjoyed getting to know cities by running and walking through them. I've never loved DC the way I love Philly. It takes work to love DC. I don't think after or long for it when I'm away. Certain people and places, sure, but not the city as a whole. Today, running 9ish miles, I loved the city. The Ethiopian man who runs the corner store on my street waved hello. I passed the empty store front a block down which, after 7 years of emptiness, is showing a few signs of new life. I passed the Howard dorms- someone finally washed off the graffiti mourning the death of Trayvon Martin from the cracked bricks. The building looked empty without that spray paint memorial. I ran past Howard, Bread for the City, down through Chinatown onto the national mall, over to the Supreme Court, back down the mall and over to the White House, up 18th street, past Community of Hope, Christ House and the Potter's House, past Whitman Walker and Upper Cardozo and La Clinica Del Pueblo. I ran past playgrounds and schools, police and homeless folks. I didn't see anyone I recognized, and yet everyone seemed familiar. It's been 7 years, and I know this city. I've walked through almost every neighborhood, maybe even every street, at some point. I don't just know where things are. It's deeper than that. I know it the way good friends know each other- able to spend time together, anticipate each others thoughts and feelings, and move through life together in a sort of duet. The city has a rhythm, different neighborhoods with different beats, and I've become a part of it. Presence, being present, makes my heart grow with fondness for this city.

I've spent about 60-70% of this year with J living in NYC. Do I love and miss him when he's away? Sure. Solo-mommying is no joke, and deserves a blog post of its own. But it's his presence that makes my heart grow fonder, not absence. My favorite text of the week is, "my train's here, see you tonight!" I suppose the times of absence have grown my appreciation for his presence. But, when it's time for him to return to NYC for the week, I realize that it is actually his presence that grows my appreciation of his presence. Presence makes the heart grow fonder.

This has been an encouraging theme as I think about moving to a city for which I currently don't feel much fondness. I feel, well, mostly nothing about Tallahassee. Not good, not bad, just fact. It's a fact I'm moving there. But presence, being present, grows fondness. Maybe I'll grow to love this new city, too. Despite my introvert desires to move into our new big house, spend any extra time reading books and building a deck and growing gardens and having kids, and just living off the fondness I've stored up for Philly and DC, I know I can't. I need to be present. I'll always love those cities, but I suspect my fondness will dwindle the longer I'm away from them. They'll always be special, but I'll fall out of touch with that deep city rhythm that I feel a part of now. Maybe on my first day living in Tallahassee I'll go for a nice, long, run.

Presence makes the heart grow fonder. Being present in and with cities, neighborhoods, communities, families, friends grows my love for those places and people. Absence, perhaps, helps reveal the fondness. But presence? Presence grows the heart.