Note: due to technical difficulties (which were not my fault) (ps nothing ever is) this post was written on Saturday but not posted until now.
Saturday afternoon, 4pm. It is snowing---so beautiful---and such an odd and lovely contrast with the sound of bagpipe music incessantly rising from the parade below. How beautiful from above! How dismal down there. But by lunch time I can't resist. I take the little dog and rush out.
And it happens---it happens every year---I am swept away by emotion at the St. Patrick's Day parade. I die a million deaths with each passing high school tuba player. I weep with gratitude for the men and women passing in uniform, the police and the indestructable mayors. The men who---so stoic and gallant---emerge out of the Highlands mist playing the pipes on a lonely cliff, full of lament and romance, so out of this world. The twirling girls, the Ladies of Ancient Orders, families in matching Shetland sweaters. The parade reaches out to the people, the people rejoice. And I am seized by a longing that I can not reach---this wonder of human kind! All these thousands of people waking up each morning and dauntlessly facing each day, how do they do it? Waking up this morning before dawn and gathering their bagpipes or top hats, pinning war medals on their lapels, donning polyester high--school marching band purple-and-yellow uniforms and coming together to face the cold and pavement.
I am enraptured. But I'm not Irish, so I tug the dog and we set off. I would never be in a parade, I think to myself as we enter the park. I am not the group-bonding, uniform-wearing type. Not a team player. Never a rah-rah. Indeed, it's a miracle when I get out of bed and face the day at all. But then---we pass a lone trumpet playing under the foot bridge---I laugh. It dawns on me that tomorrow I too will rise at dawn. I will put on an outfit and assure that children look passable in their Sunday best. We will walk up an avenue that's been mighty cold lately. When we reach the church, Liv will put on a long, white robe. She can tie the rope-belt herself now, which she notes. There are no top hats or bagpipes, but a candle she carries to lead the procession into the church sanctuary. Haakon puts on his choir robe, and after the big flags, the candles and the cross enter, the children's choir proceeds. When Liv and then Haakon pass me, I don't cheer or clap or whoop or shout, but I never miss meeting their eyes. I never miss this moment. It doesn't make me cry; it doesn't fill me with longing. It just says, I am you, and you are me. I rejoice.
The dog and I reach the reservoir and take the outer path. The bagpipes are still going strong in the distance and it dawns on me for the trillionth time: But who am I? Shouldn't I know this before the kids start making things up? Am I the broken arms and dislocated knees of childhood? The summer evening cocktails mixed in ocean-y mansions, the grass tennis courts and German shepherds of my old home? The Camel Lights I smoked, the mountain I skied? West 10th, East 12th, Jivamukti, two babies, Psi U, Africa before there were cell phones? Tissue-thin blue airmail paper! Look at these things, they were my life once. But they are not really me. They don't even exist now.
The snow obscures the world for this little dog and me, but tomorrow the view will be different. It's different every time I walk here, and we'll be gone soon anyway. Every January when I pack up the Christmas ornaments, I wonder where I will I open the boxes next year----in Kenya? Bhutan? Here? This is the U.N. life----five year contracts, here and there. Sometimes I'm unwrapping ornaments wearing a silk gown in a well-polished, tropical living room. Sometimes I'm smoking a cigarette in a rustic house with herbs hanging in the kitchen. Will I be lonely? Maybe I will be Paul Bowles in Tangier, or MFK Fisher raising daughters alone in France after the war. Identity for the diplomat wife is limited only to her imagination. (The only constant, of course, being that I remain the diplomat's wife.)
Who are you? Are you living this life? Have you renounced, by choice or by circumstance, pieces of your identity? Did you move to a new country and leave the gardens behind? Prestigious schools meant nothing to anyone in the new land for me, no one could even pronounce the names! The boys grew up and went their own way. When there was not enough money for club membership, the other members turned away in fear and shame. The summer house was swept away by a hurricane, gone like that! The company went bankrupt and thousands of employees were laid off. Little dog? I say. Who are you? What a terribly nervous look she returns.
But listen, listen around you. God is inviting us to be who He wants us to be: to be shaped by love. And so that is what we are---when the gardens are gone and the children have moved on---that is what remains. There is only Love, and that is God. We can chose Him anytime. That is our one, true identity.
Above image: a painting by Craigie Aitchison, Dog in Red (1975).