Of all the things the internet has stolen from me, what I miss the most are words. It can keep “cookies” and “bugs,” but some others are worth preserving. Since I was a naive 16-year-old waiting for AOL to dial up, I have come to think of connection as something that is always about to be lost–“we’ve got a bad connection,” “I’ll try to call when we have a better connection.” Weeks ago, on the precipice of a cross-continental move from the places and people I have loved, I thought about how desperately I didn’t want to lose connection. When it’s not co-opting words, the internet is, of course, offering advice: “To maintain strong connectivity, a clear transmission channel is required.”
Let the transmitting begin.
Part 1: Connached (kuh-nAtcht)
A few months ago, William proclaimed, “I can’t move it. It’s too connached.” Connached, the Branjolina-esque portmanteau of “connected” and “attached,” has come to describe for us something that won’t let you go. It’s stronger than connection but not as consuming as attachment.
Like a ghost limb, Tallahassee and Wakulla’s rhythms are still moving with me. Around noon on Sunday, I hear William and Clara’s little voices give the charge at church: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” I mentally prepare for the first back-to-school faculty meeting. I knock things over on my bed stand to answer a work text.
But I believe Simone Weil when she says that God has created us so that the present is all we have. She explains that the most effective part of our will is not found in effort, which is directed at the future, but in consent, in the word “yes.” Though wrestling through some connachment issues, I am saying “yes” to Winona and finding here that the present moment has a lot to give.
There was no way to properly visualize how beautiful a Midwestern island city would be, to always be five minutes away from either lake or river. We walked down to East Lake, as pristine as vacation, and then crossed the street to discover we get a West Lake, too.
At some point, we decided it best to let William in on the traditional phrasing of certain ideas so he could make a choice. On the drive from Florida to Minnesota, somewhere in Kentucky, I overheard William saying “yes” to the present: “Goodbye, Connached. I will miss you, but I’m going to first grade at a new school now.” In the strangely prophetic way kids can phrase things, he tells me he doesn’t want to be attached so instead, he’ll stay connected.
Part 2: Moments
“Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.”
I like this little sing-song poem because, without abstraction, it states what I’ve long suspected about life–we are defined by moments rather than definitions. We become what other people do, give, and say to us. There are certain days, nights, conversations, even looks from the last few years that march along with me:
The day my dad got out the old train set and put it together with William and Clara
The jean skirt from Martha that I wore on my first Winona Saturday
Socks from Alena, the ring from Charlee
Sarah’s home, full of faces from our church to say a proper goodbye
Singing loudly to “Patches” on the ride back from deep sea fishing.
In this time of job interviews and shiftless days, I pull purpose and direction from who I am and have been to other people–their mom; his wife; their daughter; her sister; her daughter-in-law; their assistant principal.
Here’s what open days and opened boxes look like while you live without internet for a couple weeks. William and Clara built Santa’s sleigh out of empty packing materials and cast themselves as Santa and Rudolph, respectively. Looks like someone is getting pretzels for Christmas.
Part III: Neighbors
When we pulled up to the home we’ll rent for a year, our neighbor was shouting at his dog to “get the hell in the house.” Big, bald, and brassy with a heavy northeastern accent, he was either shouting or just using his voice. I pinned him as someone I’d have to keep the kids quiet around. But, the next morning he saw us on the front porch and used his voice to offer us donuts for breakfast. In the evening, his wife Sherry brought over a pie made with apples from the nearby orchard and introduced her husband as Clayton.
I’m sure Sherry and Clayton have heard us flush the toilet. Our house is about four feet away from theirs. The homes here are turn-of-the-century and beautiful, but they’re jigsawed tightly into this island city as if, even in 1902, the urban planners decided good fences only mean you don’t always have to say good morning.
We’ve been invited to trivia night at the local brewery, treated to tater tot pizza by a colleague who brews beer in his basement, and taken out for veggie manoush at a coffee shop named for the blue herons that fly over the city. I want to tweet Donald Trump and let him know I found it–America is great again. They deliver your mail to the box on your front door, and when you’re picking up baking soda at the Kwik Trip for the cookies you’re making, they ask if you got fuel because, when America is great, you pump then pay. The only political sign I’ve seen in anyone’s yard says “Love everyone. No exceptions.”
Winona is modestly populated at 25,000, but stacked on top of each other in homes that age well, they’ve apparently declared a collective “we may as well do this together.” Let’s build a beautiful aquatic center to celebrate two months of summer.
Let’s buy our paperbacks from Lynn’s store and throw a performance shell on any piece of green space we can find. The lakes are circled by paved trails for sixty-year-old men and me to go roller-blading, them with hockey sticks from the good ole days and me with my questionable braking system. We hear there’s a group of Winonans who carry large shovels in their trucks so they’re always ready to help drivers stuck in a snow embankment. Last night we joked because the police blotter often reports “dog at large” or “we think we may have seen this one kid smoking a cigarette in a public space.”
There will be struggles (or maybe worse, there won’t be any at all), there has already been loneliness, but for now, it appears we have moved to a place where people are neighborly, at ease with themselves and each other.