nor was it less

A found note: “In interviews, years later, John Hawthorne will say, ‘Her life was not any more important than anyone elses’s, but certainly, nor was it less.’” He was speaking of his wife, Alice Hawthorne, killed when a bomb exploded at Centennial Park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I have carried around this fragment for decades. This simple statement about the significance of a single human life.

“She was loved and now she is gone. And it matters.”

Returning to the tasks of domesticity after a few days away is difficult. The piles of books and papers around my desk seem somehow more chaotic than when I left, and I feel a bit wearied, to have to make my way through them. I suppose I am feeling a bit overwhelmed this morning. 

Here in my chosen city, I have come to live at a particular scale. Mostly, what I need is at arm’s reach. Philadelphia is vast and sprawling. More than 1.5 million residents, compared with 200,000 in Providence (and 71,000 in Pawtucket). I know myself well enough at this point to recognize that wherever I am, it is rarely where I want to be. But still, I wonder about the tradeoffs we have made for a certain kind of ease, a certain kind of comfort, the knowability of this place I have lived for nearly thirty years. 

Over the weekend, our friends threw us a “soiree,” as they called it. A dinner party so that we could meet the people who populate their daily lives, and they could meet us. They hosted it in a renovated church that now housed offices and co-working space. Next to it, what had been the church’s rectory was now the stylish home of the church’s owners. All the children found their way over there while the parents sat around a long, gracious wooden table covered with the dishes people had brought to share. There were some Providence connections and we talked about the people we knew in common, shared news of them. But mostly, it was the usual questions, what do you do, where did you live before, what are you working on now. Chatter about children and cats. 

And the evening passed like that, laughing and talking in the company of people, for the most part, we had just met. Something about that experience — the newness of it, the way it required a kind of presence, a particular kind of attentiveness, alertness — that was buoying.