Nothing accentuates isolation like an old, dank, yellow motel room. The nicotine ghosts in the curtains. The DNA on the walls. The musty bouquet of the PTAC. All of them invisible footprints left by the transient inhabitants who came before. Here but gone. One thousand six hundred and fifty miles? Are you insane? Why on earth would you drive all that way when you could fly? Because I need the road like a shovel needs the work. I need to find my own way home.
It seems like my family has been under siege for years now. Like a storm that never leaves but only ebbs and flows. Death, illness, and emotional trauma have been uninvited guests at our Christmas gatherings. Some years I have had a good mind to just stay away. I spent last Christmas morning digging a grave on a hill in the family cemetery during a cold rain. No joke. A friend remarked that it sounded like an Edward Gorey Christmas. Before the storm there were family arguments and disagreements. I provoked some of them, some of them I did not. In truth, I have precious little in common with my family. Though experience has taught me to avoid the deadfalls of political and religious discussions with them, the trajectory of my own development sometimes makes it difficult for me to relate to my family. Still, all the world’s treasures could not keep me from them this year. I will find my way home.
There is a sea of devotion in a dog’s eyes. Liloo has been my constant companion for 13 full years now. She has seen me through times good and bad. I cannot exaggerate the significance of this little dog in my life. And now there is Clara, Liloo’s little sister—a princess in her own right. She slept in my lap when I drove her back to Toronto from the breeder in New York and I could not help but wonder about her inevitable importance to my life. So much love emanates from this tiny ball of fluff. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis in which a long term interaction between two separate species benefits both individuals. As an old friend of mine once said, the best deal humanity ever struck happened that moment when someone threw a scrap to the wolf brave enough to expose itself to the glow of the campfire. The beauty of dogs is that they show us our own potential. They remind us of our own capacity for love and compassion through a sort of preemptive reciprocity. It is abundantly clear when we fail to match their unconditional love. Liloo and Clara are my only companions on this journey. They are all I need in this moment. They will show me my way home.
No individual can speak of love. As an individual you only have half the story. We can only approach an understanding of love in relation to others. Even then there are no guarantees. Narcissists may squander their relationships by seeking validation for their unhealthy habits or patterns. Co-dependents may likewise fritter away relationships by tending to the concerns of others at their own expense. Yet love and devotion are essential ingredients of a healthy life. And family—whether by blood or by affinity—are the ones who teach us first how to love. And this Christmas I need to find my family. I need to find my way home.
Much love to my ENTIRE family this holiday season. Let’s all go home.