One’s personal landscape

Tonight I did something I haven’t in a long time: lingered for two hours over dinner with a friend. We walked for quite a while before that, enjoying the sunset and the views from her neighborhood, a climb up a very steep cobblestoned hill, talking about her life and mine. We shared the entire meal from the appetizers to dessert, exclaiming over tastes, delighting together. We had been seated in a very small section right by the window, and as I glanced outside at the pavement, I thought about how many people’s personal experiences have occurred in that small geographical spot, how that piece of pavement is so much more than just some concrete, but the scene of kisses, conversation, smokes, fights, beginnings and endings and middles of things, the recipient of so much energy and emotion. I have associations, all the way from strong to subtle, with places around the various locales I’ve lived. There’s a piece of pavement outside a restaurant in this city that was the scene of the wrap-up of a breakup quite a number of years ago. The feeling of that event and its aftermath persists in my mind and heart, so that when I see that particular corner, I experience the bittersweet flavor of it, however fleetingly.

As it happens, we made commitments to each other as we were breaking up to remain close, to cherish our friendship, and to not allow ourselves to be driven apart by any subsequent partners. And we’ve kept those commitments and to this day are very close friends. And therefore, my relationship to that memory, and the feeling evoked by that place has changed over the years, so that the proportion of bitter and sweet has tilted resoundingly toward the latter.

So I thought about the fact that everyone has a personal landscape that overlays the geographical reality of a place, not often talked about, but felt in mind, heart, and body in daily life. There’s another restaurant fairly close to where I live, the sight of which as I drive by it prompts a more recent and different combination of bitter and sweet. And that’s part of my personal landscape, the tapestry of sensation, perception, thought, memory, that enriches my experience of my life. I’d rather have it than not. I’d rather be open to the full range of my humanity than to live in a box, especially one of my own choosing and construction.

I told my friend about this idea of personal landscape as we were talking, and said that I’d love to be able to look down from above on our living room, for example, and see the layers of life and feeling there: see the old man who lived here a couple of decades ago in his favorite chair, reading; see his daughter (the woman who sold us the house) in the pink room, which was her bedroom when she was a child.

And tonight I got to add another layer of association and positive feeling in a part of the city in which I haven’t spent much time. That’s a lovely gift.

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