Our Lingering Selves


by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

We’re in the midst of “the travel season,” the final six weeks of the year. Although my own holiday travel won’t involve more than a drive out of state, I find myself thinking about this Helen Bevington quote: “I have learned this strange thing, too, about travel: one may return to a place and, quite unexpectedly, meet oneself still lingering there from the last time.”

That has to be true, right? How else could do we explain school reunions or oldies bands or any number of occasions we contrive so we can “run into” our past? In those cases, we all hope to meet our former selves, or some semblance of our former selves. To relive some moments of our youth, our exuberance for the future, and the adventures to come in the years that stretched out before us.

But the travel quote suggests something a little different than that: the element of surprise—the idea of finding a bit of us “lingering” when we return somewhere, maybe a place we thought we had left behind. It implies a longing, a desire to spend more time there. For many, the end of the year invokes that “lingering” kind of feeling.

And the holiday season is the perfect time to linger in our own childhoods as we imagine the sounds or smells or sights that made us feel safe and loved and connected. We may even visit our childhood homes and look around, hoping for a glimpse of the people who made us feel that way, only to be startled back to the present when we remember they’re no longer there.

This year, I find myself missing my mom and dad so much. This is the third holiday season I’ll spend with my Mom in my heart, not in my house, (the tenth year for my Dad), and for reasons I can’t explain, I feel even more bereft than I did immediately after losing each of them. I miss them. And I miss the familiar comfort that greeted me each time I walked into their home, the place where I grew up.

I pulled the door closed on that house three years ago, and I haven’t been back. I know a place is just a structure, but still. Still. I can’t help feeling there is a bit of me lingering there, although I’m not entirely sure who she is, wandering the rooms silently, remembering the hard and the soft moments that made up a life. The girl who was the quintessential “middle child.” The girl who did the right thing—almost always. The girl who realized at a very young age—although she’d never be able to explain exactly why—that alcohol plus family was never going to equal anything but a disaster. Who realized—too late—that despite every single flawed moment she shared with him, her father was a kind and caring man, far more complex that she could have ever understood as a child; a man who fought demons she would never fully know. Who realized—far too late—that her mother was one of the strongest people she would ever meet, with her own secrets and a few demons of her own.

Stay! I want to linger. I want everyone to linger with me. “One day more,” as the song says. Just one.

And then, just like that, I’m here again, a woman well into her middle age, with adult children who may be just a few years away from their own yearning to linger. As I watch my sons grow older, I silently wonder about two things: What will they take away with them as they leave, and what will they meet when they return?

I unpack Christmas ornaments and begin decorating the house, and think: Maybe they’ll have fond memories of the discount-store Christmas stockings we hung every year, each name scrawled across the top in very, very bad glitter letters because Mommy refused to use a template and tried to write them freehand, with illegible results. Maybe they’ll subconsciously think, “imperfection.” Maybe they’ll think, “Next life: a mother who does needlepoint.” Maybe, “She tried, God love her.”

Maybe they’ll recall the manger scene that appeared each year, with an infant figure missing from the display until Christmas morning—the set that had a shepherd holding a broken staff and a king carrying a chipped gift in his hands. And they’ll think: “Super Glue” or “Glue gun.” Nothing says Christmas like adhesive materials.

They’ll meet three boys lingering in the kitchen. Boys who decorated hundreds of gingerbread men, creating crooked faces with far too much icing. They’ll remember those boys giving me rings or pins or earrings with clasps that never quite closed and stones that fell out on December 26, and they’ll remember that I wore them all.     

I hope when they recall their childhood selves, it’s mostly the good stuff: the forts they built out of sofa pillows, the gerbils they sent sliding down elevated racetracks (poor things), and the times Daddy would “fly” them all into their beds at night. And when they find their way home, and meet that faint shadow of themselves “lingering there from the last time,” I hope the anger is rare, the sadness is shared, and the love and peace are abundant.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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4 Responses to Our Lingering Selves

  1. Donna in Delaware November 30, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Renee, I just lost my mother suddenly at the end of October. Needless to say, Thanksgiving didn’t quite do it for me this year, Christmas will be the same. I haven’t had time to process the loss yet, so the “missing her” part hasn’t quite hit me. I feel that she is still with me, even though I know that she is gone.

    Over the years it’s been my grandmother that I missed the most, and granddad too. They raised me from 11 years of age on. It devastated me when she passed. All the memories came flooding back a few Christmases ago, when I really, really missed them. My childhood in the home I shared with them and their 6 children and my brother, caused me to pause. The arguments of the children (not me, like you, I was the good child who did no wrong) the foods, decorations, secrets, gifts, friendships that was all a part of the holiday. We didn’t have the best, but we had what mattered, love, togetherness and a cohesiveness that any dysfunctional part of our relationships transcended over the years.

    On a recent visit ‘home,’ things have changed drastically in the neighborhood. All that was good, fun and adverse have been torn down or stripped away. All those memories, linger in my head, but no longer physically exists. That’s alright, because it is inside of me, never to be stripped away by anyone or anything. It is a part of life that we want to “go back” to those times where we felt safe and genuinely happy, although things were never quite “perfect,” it did it for us, maybe because we didn’t (as children) know any better. Somewhere in us is always going to be that longing for the past, for a life that is long gone from us, but still linger within us. Now we make memories for our children, so that they can make them for theirs. I hope that their memories will be sweet, fond, and warm when they look back, without much agony or regrets. Maybe they will even want to, and be able to linger just a bit longer when they think of mom, dad and their childhood, and smile about it all.

  2. renee December 1, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Donna – I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom; for so many of us, a loss like no other. I hope this season of peace will help you find your own quiet moments of joy as you give yourself the gift of time – to grieve, to heal, to celebrate everything good you shared.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the post.

  3. Donna in Delaware December 1, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Thank you Renee, you are an inspiration, you make us think.

  4. Mary December 29, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    So poignant, honest and heartfelt! This is also the third holiday season since the loss of my mom, although I have a different perspective. I am sorry this is a difficult year for you! Your story really touched me – this year Jim got the Grandfather clock fixed his Dad made and passed down to him. I was extraordinarily close to my Grandmother, who had one on her landing. While I was growing up, the chimes were synonymous with her and comfort and unconditional love. This holiday season I feel wrapped in a hug and ten years-old every time I stop what I am doing and listen. And linger…

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