I am reminded again tonight that the small hours are really the best for writing. It is past 1 AM -- I have studied somewhat half-heartedly for an upcoming exam, first in my daughter's bed as she drifted off to sleep, and then downstairs at the dining table after putting pound cake batter in the oven. The house smells sweet now, lived-in, welcoming. I didn't intend to come here tonight and write -- mostly because I need to relearn how to sift through the detritus of too much change that occurred too suddenly. There is a lot of pull I feel towards writing, but there is also a stronger force that does not allow me to focus on one coherent thought or topic. There is too much intangible clutter in my life, and the contrived neatness of my tangible reality helps, but only a little. Or perhaps more simply, you can call it inertia.
The reason I decided to show up and write this time is not because inspiration struck while I was brushing my teeth before bed -- actually, in a way, perhaps it did. I have placed on the shelf next to the sink a small framed picture. The picture must have been taken in the year 1988 or '89 -- I look about 3 or 4 years old (in the blue and white shirt). I chose the unusual spot for this picture quite deliberately -- it is something I see every morning and evening. I don't often dwell on it or reflect on the happiness of my childhood, but it's always there, a comfort to me. I have no memory of the day this picture was taken, but I've imagined it. It must have been sunny, maybe spring of '89. A Sunday. No school, no work. The kitchen door would have been propped open by a chair. Something had to have been on the stove -- a pot of daal sputtering. My father must have told us a story, gathered us around him. He must have been taking pictures of us -- his three girls -- as he did frequently. And maybe I climbed on to his shoulders and my sister wanted to trade places. Maybe he thought it would be funny to get a picture of all of us stacked like that. Americans would say, "like pancakes;" I prefer "like books." What a lark, my parents must have thought. How wonderful to capture this moment. I could ask them how it really came about, but I am afraid of being disappointed if they don't remember that day with as much clarity as I've imagined it. What if it was actually overcast? What if it wasn't even daytime? What if the house was silent and the picture was taken only moments after the baby started to cry? What if someone hastily arranged the girls this way to entertain the baby, and oh there was a camera, so click, flash, off you go? Not nearly as romantic as my imagination.
But that doesn't matter. What matters is the significance this picture holds for me on bleak days. There are many of those -- when I am struggling to find meaning in my mother's illness, or when I am desperately trying to be a good mother myself, when I am bleary-eyed wishing for more sleep, or worried for a big test or a presentation at work -- this picture grounds me. It tells me, look, there you were, all those years ago, and those are the people who loved and love you still. It gives me a deep sense of kinship and repose even on days that leave me drained and somewhat lonely. It calls me home, too, a call I resist over and over. Maybe tomorrow, I say. Maybe next year.
So much love in one frame. And so much magic.