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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Full Heart

"I'll be back really late," I told her. "We're going out to a club after." And then it hit me. I used to come back really late all the time when I stayed here at my sister-in-law Joan's house in Minneapolis. And leave before dawn. My days back then generally ran from the first meeting at 6 a.m. until the last one ended around midnight. Boy, what a different life that was. I never went out to Hell's Kitchen in those days either. This house in south Minneapolis across from Powderhorn Park has been my Twin Cities refuge for more than fifteen years. And for most of that time, the earliest times anyway, I was up here for conventions, conferences, continuing education courses. I've stayed here when the house was painted plain old white and while it was being painted -- and now that it is painted a gorgeous aubergine. I survived thunderstorms, even tornado warnings and a killer heat wave when the humidity and the temperature were beyond bearable. I did radio interviews on the phone in this house several times, once sitting in a closet because I was too nervous to concentrate anywhere else. Joan hosted me on her own for several years but then happily added a husband, Jay, and later, a son, Noah. This room where I'm staying was once painted a lush velvety and very deep lavender, and had artsy, feminist art on the walls. Now it is cranberry colored and has Green Day posters, a certified framed photo of Randy Moss, and shelves filled with Legos, armored personnel carriers, tanks, a galleon complete with pirate, and an ax, for god's sake. So much has changed. So much has stayed the same. The house itself has been doubled in size. Merlin the magical Alaskan husky has gone to the great hunting ground in the sky and now there is Cooper the golden to love. And the infant we met in 1998 is now playing Risk and organizing neighborhood football games. Coming back again and again over the years, in such different circumstances, provides a strong cord in my life. Joan's strong (spectacular) coffee, the newspaper on the dining room table, rich conversations and stairs that still creak in all the old places. I've come back here for sanity and sustenance and rest after wrenching days at various conventions, late night strategy sessions that succeeded in planning the same event, again, heart-breaking conversations with women who sought out the church's expert on clergy sexual abuse, late night kibbitzing in the lounge at the Hilton Hotel with silly colleagues who were happily unwinding after one too many business meeting, and celebratory receptions to honor the church's first female bishops. This is the touchstone. This egg-plant painted house at Powderhorn Park. We came here as a family too, for years, spending the Martin Luther King holiday weekend up here in the snow. My daughters learned to ice skate on this lake and to cross-country ski in this park. And then there was the year of the wedding, here, the reception in this house, and a couple of years later, the party to welcome baby Noah. It all came back to me tonight as I left to drive over to Macalester College to pick up my daughter -- the one who once let me hold her hand and teach her to skate -- for dinner and her roommate's senior recital. And this also came clear to me as I drove across the Mississippi River bridge and down Summit Avenue, still haunted by the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the current genius of Garrison Keillor. Of all the late nights and early mornings and comings and goings from this house, none is so important as this trip, this visit, this, here, now. I got in at 1:17 tonight. Sadly, not a record. But it was the best. the very best thing i have ever done here. From here. Taking Kaia to dinner. Hearing Carly play, and seeing her tap dance. From classc Poulenc to Artie Shaw. But the real best was being here as a mom. Talking to my daughter. My grown-up almost graduated-from-college little girl. Of all the fascinating and even major, institutional changes I've come here to be part of, this one is definitely the best. Being a mom beats being a bureacrat!