Thursday, December 7, 2017


            I wrote the poem below following my divorce when Jeff was about to move from the only home he had ever known.

                   (for my son)

Leave the cedar limbs brushing
your window, your room's
paneled walls, your fading
rainbow bedspread. Your
brother's face will be
a stranger's.

We all visit. We only stop
in houses for a while, taste
the food, quickly become
old. No home where we
comfortably return.

visit. You will go some-
where, spread your stuff,
make do. Your father
did. Join me out
here in the bright
savage world.

            That was more than 30 years ago. Now Kim and I are experiencing life as visitors in a different way. We are aware every day that our stay here, like Jeff’s and mine, is only temporary. Our age teaches this to us, and Kim’s cancer hammers the lesson home. We are visitors.

            Every once in a while, we stumble upon a television program dealing with space exploration – a segment on the evening news or 60 Minutes, or something we catch on PBS. The images, and the descriptions of time and distance, reminds us what a small speck we are. And our universe may not be the only one, a concept I struggle to grasp. From the cosmic perspective, our bloody tribalism seems ridiculous, much as the wars of the Lilliputians appeared to Gulliver. Given how tiny we are and how brief our stay on our speck, how should we spend that brief time that we have as visitors? I’ll leave that question unanswered.

            My concluding advice to Jeff may sound a bit harsh – “savage”? – but that’s how it felt when I moved out, and I’m not sure that it’s any less savage now. Webster defines savage as “not domesticated or under human control.” Anyone who thinks their world is under human control has never dealt with cancer.

            One alternative to being visitors is to be home, but what does that word mean? It’s one’s “place of residence,” yes, but of course it’s much more than that. We watched E.T. (“Phone home!”) a few day’s ago, and lately we’ve been hearing that there’s no place like home for the holidays. Kim and I have moved a lot lately, changing homes. Together we count over 20 times we have moved in our lives, and we are pregnant with another move. We are now in the third week of more or less camping out in our condo as our new floors are being installed – currently with rugs stacked in the bathroom and kitchen countertops loaded with stuff from a closet. It’s our home, yes, but without the comfortable patterns of home life.

            In a very real sense, home is any place where I can find the light switches in a room without looking because my hand knows where they are – one of the comfortable patterns. But more importantly, home is wherever Kim is. This is something I appreciate every day, as she combines the roles of artist and homemaker. Tonight I stood with Kim at the window as she photographed the snow falling with savage beauty, the linguini with clam sauce simmering a few feet away. I am home – visiting perhaps, but home.

            As visitors, then, we learn to make ourselves at home, even in a savage world.

Response from Charmaine Stangl:
          This whole thing just blew me away.  It touched a nerve and flooded my mind with memories, feelings and questions.  So for once, I'm sending an immediate reply.  First, the poem.  The raw pain of it was palpable.  After that kind of pain we do "make do", and thankfully, it eases over time.  Love the phrase "bright savage world".
          Next, visitors and "tiny specks".  Yes, that's what we are, but here we are.  So what should we do with this brief presence?  A few things I feel sure of -- hearkening back to your last blog -- contribute,connect.  Also: learn,comfort, teach.  So much to be contemplated -- I see why you left that unanswered.  I'll put one of my favorite quotes on this subject in the mail to you today (too lengthy to type). 
          Last, the meaning of "home".  It certainly resonates with so much more than its surface meanings.  All the physical comfort and beauty in the world doesn't create the ease, safety and well being of a real home.  This question, too, deserves a lot more time and space than i can give it at this moment, but I plan to give it a lot of thought -- maybe even write a little something about it.  I had the great good fortune to live in the same home from birth to age 18.  Every nook and cranny of that house and yard is etched in my brain and heart.  I felt total safety and comfort there.  I felt bathed in love.  I always thought that the house itself was an important piece of that feeling.  When I entered that house for the first time that my mother was no longer there (my parents lived there the rest of their lives, and my mother died there) it felt utterly cold, dark and empty.  It was a blow to the solar plexus.  So I'm sure that the presence of certain people is an important aspect of this feeling of home.  Thanks for the scintillating wake-up.


  1. Jim & I travel a lot, but we are always happy to get back home. When we went sailing a few years ago, I did not want to sell my home. I wanted to be able to go back to it. Your piece about "home" was very accurate and touching.

  2. Thanks for reminding me to slow down and enjoy.