Thursday, February 09, 2006

Young Love: Alone In Spain

The lovers last summer, together in Kinzua, Pennsylvania. Posted by Picasa

There's no need to discuss the principles of koan study;
just listen carefully
to the wind outside
the pines and cedars.


Someone else looked at the sky
with the same rapture
when the moon
crossed the dawn.

---Izumi Shikibu

What silence can there be,
What lack of sound compare
to a snowfall from dark air
falling quietly to sea?

---H. D. Eshleman

Yesterday a letter arrived from Espana. It is from a university student who has become very dear to our family these past several months. She is my son's young lady, finishing her advanced degree in Pamplona. He remains here, helping to manage his business. They both are 22.

How well I remember separation at 22. I was at Harvard and she was in Maine, not so far apart as Jeroch and Karen (pronounced KARR-in, as they do in Norway---although few in her life have learned to say it that way). There was a 4-lane highway a few miles outside Cambridge that went right up there. Maybe that made it worse. I only had a bicycle though. Some nights I used to ride it all the way out to that road, and just stand on an overpass, looking North...howling at the moon.

Perhaps Jeroch is a better man than I was. I hope so. A father hopes that for his son. After a month apart, he still appears with a ready smile and his customary hug of encouragement. He asks how we're doing, and he wants to know. He listens intently to any troubles. I have to press him for news of his heart. But he tells us cheerfully of emails and phone calls.

It was just a phone booth for me. One of those old kind you got in and closed the folding door. Encased in a standup coffin with a pocketful of change. The operator would interrupt: she wanted more money. I would plead for just a few more seconds to say goodbye. Fortunately, in New England in the early '60s, they were merciful. Ma Bell we used to nickname the company.

The computer cafe in Pamplona costs money though. I don't know what arrangement they have for long international telephoning. With all the possibilities of Instant Message these days, I'm sure they could work something out...even with a webcam. But not at the cafe I guess. So they make do...and write and phone a lot. And count the days. "I am almost into February," she was writing at the end of January, "and February is the shortest month of the year."

One's heart surely is tested and strengthened in these times apart. It doesn't matter if you're not as young as these two. When Dana and I were courting, we both had jobs and cars but 400 miles of separation. We chose a location on the map halfway and used to meet there. What passion when we'd touch! It's good to remember that, revitalizing like a spring fountain.

Karen is living with a Spanish family, learning the language better and personally, and much about cooking their way. She loves to travel and explore, and so whatever time she can spare from her "pretty tough" courses she's out "into the countryside and the mountains." There's a monastery "built into a mountainside in the 8th century" and El Castillo de Loarre, which she says may be the best preserved Romanic castle in the world.

And then there is Pamplona itself. "I am in love," she writes. "My window overlooks a huge park, with cathedral towers peeking out behind, and mountains peeking out from behind them. There is a bird sanctuary that is a minute (on foot) away---peacocks and black swans, even roosters---and Giant Sequoyas tower over the rest of the park's canopy. The buildings downtown are beautifully old and worn, with flowers draped off of balconies. The streets are winding and cobblestoned, too narrow for cars (at least the American kind). The coffee is strong, the food is fresh, and the people are warm. I feel safe here, even alone at night." At that point her letter drifts a few sentences into thoughts of Jeroch and missing him...and vivid dreams she has, and how she loves those times of aloneness. Oh, the bittersweet hours. "My blankets are so soft, and the lights from the park cast beautiful shadows that dance around my room at night."

Isn't that lovely, and isn't she sweet to write so gently? When you miss a loved one, any touch from the familiar back around him eases the longing. It intensifies the moments that can be spared in remembering and, perhaps with moist eyes, hugging oneself...or a suddenly very personal pillow. Writing to us touches him too. We stand as a family, looking her way, and awaiting her return. We too are in growing health to be near their young love.

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