On going home

I have been gone for 86 days–almost three months on the road. People often ask, “How can you stay away for so long?” but I always ask, “How come you never get away?” Home is where you make it. It isn’t a building or a city, it’s not a house that you built or an apartment you rent. Your home is where your heart is, to coin a cliche, so, in a sense, I am always home, whether I am at the cabin in northern Minnesota, or the farm, or in Europe. I have long since ceased being a tourist, even when I’m touring a castle, passing through customs, or checking a map. I ride the subway as if I were a local, brandishing my transport pass as if I had lived there twenty years. In sense, I am always going home–to the farm, in the city, at the university, on the plains of central Texas. One should not obsess one way or another about what “home” means. I find that the journey home is so much easier to make when I am going somewhere that looks, smells, and feels like home. I can wait in airport–which is not home, definitely not home–when I know that the plane I am waiting for is going “home.” Home is more about the people and less about the stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love my stuff, but stuff will never love you and can always be replaced–not so true about the human element. So if you are going home and will see folks, greet them for me, tell them I am fine, and that I will be there soon.

On smiling

It seems that it takes, according to experts, lots of muscles to smile, but that babies learn to smile before they can even talk, imitating the faces that their parents make at them. I am no expert, but I think that trying to analyze what a smile is, exactly, takes all the sunshine right out of a smile. Perhaps the most positive sign of affirmation that anyone can receive is a smile: when we do something right, when we meet again after a long absence, when we need reassurance, when we wake up in the morning. We all smile for lots of different reasons: we are glad to see someone, we are feeling happy, we are getting exactly what we want, we want to reaffirm the efforts of someone else, we are euphoric, we are relieved, we are in love, we want to cheer up someone who might not be smiling. When I see others smile, it warms my heart even when I am not involved in the conversation. Seeing that someone else is happy, reaffirmed, right, creates in me a positive light in a dark world. With all the tragedy, chaos, and sadness that troubles our world (and has always troubled our world, let’s face it, we are far from perfect creatures), a smile is like a beam of sunlight on a cold winter’s morning when you know it’s not going above zero that day. A smile reaffirms the idea that this whole business of life is worth pursuing for a bit longer. Smiles are also sexy, and in the right situation, speak about desire, pleasure, love, longing, intimacy, craving. Smiles between a man and a woman are about more than anything that might expressed in words, and perhaps there are no words to express those kinds of feelings. Poets, philosophers, play-writes, mystics, barbers, bartenders, and theologians have tried to express the ideas and emotions behind the smile, but they have been at it for several millennium without getting it exactly right. What the smile communicates is complex, positive, and happy, and it’s happiness that illusive thing that we all pursue? In a world which often seems arbitrary, cold, and uncaring, a smile is often a light for a soul lost in the dark night of life. I would suggest that smiles, even when we are alone and only smiling to ourselves, are a sign of mental health, of an upbeat, positive view of the world. Of course, we have all seen creepy smiles on the faces of sales people, receptionists, and others who are paid to smile regardless of how they feel. I wonder if smiling actually helps them deal with tough situations (customer service, blech) in which those fake smilers must deal with unhappy and demanding and unsmiling folks who are bringing trouble–me, for example, when I have to take back a defective product. Could a smile be a shield against ill-will and anger? Does a smile defuse and angry heart? In the end, a smile, as opposed to a frown, seems almost to carry with it supernatural powers for healing, loving, caring in a world of frowns, of negative energy, of violence and chaos. So we smile at each other–non-verbal communication–and hope that the message gets across, but maybe a smile is not just a one-shot deal, maybe it’s a promise, or an ethos, or pathos, unwritten rhetoric of hope that cannot be truly expressed in words or any other verbal way. Maybe smiles are more about communication and less about words?