Palimpsest (for John T)

Here that word arrives again—palimpsest. October comes to New York City, a rain-splashed evening sweeping in fall’s cool weather. Wine glasses line up, golds and reds, in the candlelight. And late into the night, we talk. We gather not where we all first met, on campus, freshman year, but in New York City. So I do not glimpse that younger self, that naïve girl running across a quad. Instead, I see a palimpsest of an entirely different nature. An overlay of diverse might have beens. Forty years ago, life gathered us together, then flung us across the world like stars across a dark canvas— not Shakespeare’s “earth-treading stars” but in our own ways luminescent, so aglow with life’s possibilities. We took off to cities around the world, lived out different narratives. And now, we come together to celebrate cracking open yet another decade. That universe we set off into now contracts—we’ve seen the possibilities trickle to a thin stream, the dubious distinction of learning that ‘alternatives exclude.’ So we tell the stories of what we found there; we fill in for each other the texture of our lives. Now we’ve reached this age, we talk without artifice or insecurity. We recognize life simply is—why hide. And underneath the stories of college days and our own children’s adventures, of today’s work (of newspapers and finance and literature and on and on), of the eddies and corners of our experiences, we can catch the faintest shimmer of other lives we might have lived. Listening, I hear Hong Kong or Chicago or New York itself. I think about the view out of different office windows, the plantings in a yard I’ve never seen, the illnesses of some other person, the obstacles and small tragedies of other lives, and the joys and mere daily happinesses too. The light through the wine glasses glows with all those somewhere, someone elses, and we keep talking. Outside the slick remnants of rain reflect us as we say goodbye, and my imaginary palimpsest fades once again.

Layers out the train window

Layers out the train window

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