love returning home on a winter’s night. From the warmth of my car, down in the dark valley, I see two bright stars of light on the black hillside. That is my house. Come home, it says to me. I lower the window to breathe in the cold air, to clear my head of the noise of the town.
Soon, I reply to the distant light. I speed over the dirt road, its bumps and dips. I swerve around the corner and careen up the hill, bouncing over its jagged rocks and ditches.
The pine tree at the foot of my drive shivers and howls its welcome; I won’t bother to check the mailbox now. I stop and get out of the car to open the gate. My coat is unzipped to feel the cold.
No dogs come to greet me: they are sleeping and the wind smothers the sound of my return. I will be a sudden apparition to them. I will carry the shopping into the house and place the bags on the floor. With my coat still on, I will wad up some old newspaper, thrust it in the stove, stack kindling around it and light the fire. I will be home.
The evening will unfold like a blanket. I will prepare a simple salad of radicchio, apples, parmigiano, and raw artichokes. I’ll use our olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. We will be together: a glass of wine, the fire and my computer. There will be music and news and conversations with the people in my life. There will be the silence of sleeping dogs and the noise of the television. There will be wondering. And the wind outside will whistle through the cracks in the shutters.
My feet on the coffee table, here I am — four dogs and a fire. I spend this time alone, but I am never alone.
We carry the past with us. We carry it in us. Sometimes it is the cold, sometimes the fire. Sometimes it is the glass of wine, sometimes the laughter and conversation.
The hardest thing about the past is that it keeps growing, to the extent that it risks subsuming us. We have to be strong and fight it back. Keep it in its place. Use it, but not let it use us. The past is in our homes, in our storage rooms where things accumulate, under the stairs, in the garage, in our closets. It can be in the mirror. But we are not the past. It is only a fraction of who we are.
There are people who love us today, people who love us now. These are the people we need to think about, the ones that need us, and who we also need. The people of the past will always be there, but those of the present will not.
Let the fire burn in celebration of today. Let the wine be drunk to rejoice for tonight. Let the chatter of the television programs grow; let the mass of information increase. Make plans, draw maps, debate an issue. Ask questions. Move forward into tomorrow, towards the next great adventure coming our way.