One gray afternoon in February, friends huddle under sprawling oak trees for a service of remembrance as we inter the ashes of one we love. We are together, and yet strangely apart, arriving in pairs and small clusters and departing the same. . . back into the separate lives we have yet to live.
I, too, return to my home in the darkening hour and see lamplight glowing from within, hear threads of music and voices, climb the stairs to find guests filling my kitchen. People are dropping by to pay their respects to the family—the house made ready by friends who came early to light candles, set up the bar—so that I arrive to a party of remembrance underway.
The one we are celebrating cultivated camellias in a big and beautiful way so word has gone out that friends are welcome to bring blossoms from their gardens in tribute to him. People want something to do with their broken hearts, and so I shouldn't be surprised to see every surface of my house begin to bloom with shades of pink, rose, and white: show-stopping R.L. Wheelers, Kramer's Supremes, Frank Housers, and quiet debutantes, pure Alba Plena. Everywhere. Not just single specimens but trays of tribute bloom; they blanket the house.
All of those who had arrived and departed the memorial service in capsules now come together in a different kind of whole when in a home, which is by nature intimate, warm, personal. The music lifts hearts, food is passed, friends embracing friends lead to candid exchange—this is a moment of meeting made possible by the great loss we all share. Dozens and dozens of people—one hundred or maybe two—flow through the house with genuine affection and tears, stories, laughter, and more camellias.
When I think of home, this memory is what surfaces. For the past two years, our homes have been sanctuaries or sick-rooms or solitary havens. But the other side of home is this possibility—a gathering place—not public but personal—where people can join in ways not possible in other venues. I wonder if we are heading this way again, as COVID takes another stab at upsetting events, as cancellations and postponements continue. The refuge of the home in this new year may be not solitary isolation, but possibly small, soulful affairs with friends. Fewer faces; deeper connections.
Recently, I went to the workroom at the top of my house and pulled out vintage textiles sleeping there, awakening them into pillows for the home which we introduce today. I think that is what we may need around us—storied pieces which invite conversation and comfort as we make time for one another, a few at a time. I look at each pillow and remember a fabric my mother brought to me from far away, or my early collector's enthusiasm—each one precious to me in some way.
Maybe our coming together this year will offer us the chance for deep presence to one another, for revisiting our fields of dreams over drink and a nourishing meal, for leaning into one another. Maybe in that way, we will together bloom again, as riotous as camellias in winter, straight out of the cold, hard ground.
All the Best,