I thought of these things this morning as I drove from Mass through our decrepit downtown (the downtown which, every time I pass through it, I tell myself could be great, cool, and charming, when in fact it's pockmarked with abandoned storefronts, its roads continually under construction). Where would we be now, I wondered, if I had decided four years ago that I simply couldn't leave New York? If you're from there, you know that this type of person actually exists; there are members of my own family who have predicated their professional and family lives upon the axiom that they must never, ever move away from New York (and I have other friends and family members who once held to this position, but allowed it to relax over time when they found that they just couldn't get a job in their fields).
I feel especially nostalgic at this time of year, generally a beautiful time in New York, when the light has softened over even the most ramshackle auto-body shops in the Bronx, and the late-summer cicadas sing from every weed growing up from a sidewalk crack. I travel back in my mind, seeking after certain sense memories, trying to recall fragrances and sights: the smell of strong coffee wafting through the open doors of Puerto Rican lunch counters, the faint tang of smoke in the salty city air, the refraction of the mellow light through the trees, the plums and figs piled up under the awnings outside the Korean fruit-sellers'. But I know that there is no good reason to do this. If I strive, as I say the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola, to surrender my memory and my will to the direction of Christ, then I know that I will at some point have to stop chasing the lovely ghosts of memory.
In his song "She Belongs to Me," Bob Dylan describes a woman who has "everything she needs":
She's an artist, she don't look back
I would like to be like this woman, who also "never stumbles;/She's got no place to fall," a line that, for some reason, makes me think of Richard Wilbur's poem "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World," especially the breathtaking last line about the heaviest nuns "keeping their difficult balance."
The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Now they are flying in place, conveying
From all that it is about to remember,
I am striving against memory to keep my difficult balance in the world in which I now find myself. As my cousin said once, "Don't look back. You're not going that way."