Is this what we wanted?
Stories wandering out,
having their own free lives? .
-Naomi Shihab Nye
It's 9am on May 24, the weather forecast has us set to hit 30C today, and it's already 26 in the living room. I'm glad of summer and glad of being too stubborn to turn on the air conditioning before June, and also glad that it's not very humid yet, because it's always the humidity that kills me. I can work with heat.
It was a holiday here this past weekend, Ontario's summer opening, more or less the equivalent of what Memorial Day was growing up in Illinois. Picnics and barbecues, kids on lawns, families on bikes, a hundred dogs. G and I stayed in, enjoying the balcony and the breezes through the windows and the little tabletop grill that was our mutual early birthday present.
I've been thinking about how little we experienced seasons in our old place, partly because I went outside so rarely but mostly because of our positioning, that we had no balcony and our windows faced a wall ten feet away so we had no direct light. Our lives were diffuse reflected sunlight at best. We didn't experience summer, not really. Here, we're getting a full dose, and it's wonderful.
I've been in the mood for strawberries. I've made strawberry salads and strawberry scones and strawberry smoothies and everything is a little bit stained with strawberry juice.
As I was making the latest batch of scones, I decided to do it on the table, where the light and surface are better for photographs. In the process, I noticed, not for the first time but with fresh eyes, the ever-increasing number of scratches and grooves on the surface of the wood. Some of them are from serving and eating, from parties and table games; others are from the time when the table was also my work space, my craft and sewing space, and more. This is a table we've had for about four years now, an IKEA Jokkmokk we bought for our last apartment, and there's nothing inherently special about it. All the same, I find that I'm growing attached to it, and while someday I'd like to have a better dining table, I don't know that I'll ever want to get rid of this one altogether. The scratches and scuff marks make me think of other tables: the one in my in-laws' dining room that carries a mark from when it belonged to G's grandparents and the kids were chasing their dad, whose belt buckle caught a corner and took out a chunk of wood; the table that used to sit in our farmhouse kitchen with scuffs from where my grandfather had jokingly attached a "gutter" to catch spills.
My grandmother is something of a hoarder (I don't say that in jest, but that's another day's story) who always told me that the damage on old furniture was about "character." I never understood it, really, partly because much of the time that character had come from someone else's lives, but as I get older and engage in the process of making a life and a home, I'm coming to appreciate the stories that come from permanent marks. I like having objects that wear their history in a way that inspires memory, the way I might wear a piece of jewelry or a particular scent. Like counting knuckles or beads as a prayer, I can run my hands across the tabletop and think of the things I've done there, the things I've created and the friends I've fed and the stories I've told.
I've been trying to take a similar approach to my body, lately. It's easy with visible scars, where every mark is an obvious story. It's a little bit less easy with things like pounds, like stretch marks and aging, things we're not supposed to enjoy about ourselves. But everything my body is holds a story, of changes, of happiness and sadness, of comfort and pain, of being treated well or poorly. Every muscle fiber made from the strain of holding something, every cell a tiny burst of life, every crease a mark of movement. My body has a story and it will tell it whether or not anyone is ready to listen.
Look at your hands. Lace your fingers. Stretch your back, touch your toes, stand up and walk around. Feel the creaking and the stretching and the soreness and the spaces between what you can identify. Breathe in, feel the air fill your lungs, feel the slight strain or ache that makes you cough. Listen to the story.