Cozy, rainy dinner

Maddy's porch

Dinner party out back

Last night, Maddy and her lovely housemates hosted a cozy dinner party. We all brought warm comfort food. We drank sangria. We ate Maddy’s perfect Guinness–chocolate bundt cake. We talked about how the porch makes you feel like you’re in a tree-house in the Brazilian rain forest.

Mary Boyce
Mary Boyce in the kitchen.
Maddy and Hannah
Maddy and Hannah.

I sat inside with the ladies, where we talked about crazy persons, green fig trees, grammar, futures, and pasts.

I didn’t sit with Guion at dinner, but we got in the car afterward and both said, “I really like those people. Let’s stay here for a while.”

Flowers from our yard

Backyard bouquet.

Guion plucked this bouquet for me straight out of our yard. I KNOW. (He even arranged the flowers himself. I, for one, am very impressed.) He is turning 25 on Wednesday and we are going to have a whole WEEK of birthday celebrations. Just because he is that special.

Sunday (and part of today), we were graced with Courtney‘s presence. Nothing like seeing an old friend to remind you how much you really, really miss them. Coco is happy and beautiful and we had a lovely (if too short) evening with her, watching the dog play-fight Guion in the backyard, eating French Silk, and introducing her to the joy of the first season of “Community.” Next time, she’ll have to come for a whole month.

Traveling too much

Downtown mall in Charlottesville, July 2010. Source: Me

I was struck by a small exchange in an “academic” dog book I recently read, Dog’s Best Friend, by Mark Derr. The author, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly at the time, was visiting a Navajo reservation to study the relationship between Navajo shepherds and their dogs.

Derr told the shepherd that he was from Florida, working in Boston, recently got back from Alaska, and was now in New Mexico to observe him and his dogs. The wizened Navajo shepherd looked at Derr and said, “You travel too much. I have been here all my life,” and extended his hand out over the scraggy, red fields.

That notion–of traveling too much–really struck me as interesting, especially since it’s a phrase I’ve never even considered.

Where I come from, being widely traveled is almost akin to a spiritual virtue. When you’re in college, people especially love to brag about all of the places they’ve been. Discussion of your world travels is the subtlest way to talk about how cool you are without explicitly bragging. I’m guilty of it myself. Someone starts talking about Japan? I am compelled to chime in about the complexities of life in Tokyo, as if I were an expert in Japanese culture and custom after having lived there for a mere three months. This sushi? Ick, it’s nothing like what I had in Asakusa. And so on.

This phenomenon is the worst at college. Guion likes to call it “study abroad syndrome:” Students get back from a summer or a semester of travel and are suddenly incapable of talking about anything else but the food in Paris, the streets of Pamplona, the art in Prague. I totally get it. I’ve done and I still do it, too.

Daibutsu at Kamakura, July 2008. Source: Me

So, here’s the pattern of thought I’ve been working out lately, with regard to the Navajo shepherd’s notion of “traveling too much.”

Point 1: Americans are famously ignorant of other cultures and countries. This is well-documented. American tourists have a bad reputation for a good reason: They’re bumbling and self-important and despise any and everything that’s different from “the American way.” For this reason, we could all do well to travel more. Grace, who has traveled more than anyone I know, is proof of the calm tolerance that comes from the interaction with people very different from yourself. Travel forces you to let go of yourself and your all-encompassing way of life. Travel greatly expands your view of humanity, whether consciously or subconsciously. It changes us.

Point 2: There are still many places around the world that I would love to go to. I want to see all of Asia if I could. I am so eager to go back to Japan, particularly to visit Kyoto and Aomori, as impractical as it is. I have never been to Europe. Ireland, the Netherlands, France, and all of Scandinavia draw my particular interest. And New Zealand is so beautiful I can hardly believe it exists on Earth.

Point 3: That said, I am done with the chic obsession with travel–for myself, at least. This is what I have found about myself while considering the shepherd’s statement. I do not merely want to flit from place to place, visiting for a few days or a few months. I do not want to jump around, getting to know a few people I will never see again, leaving and considering myself having “experienced” that particular culture.

No. I want to LIVE somewhere. I don’t want to just visit places constantly. I’m not into visiting right now; I’d rather be living somewhere. I want to commit to a place. I want to get to know a community so thoroughly that I am daily aware of its habits, secrets, beauties, and blemishes. I want to be content where I am. I am striving to make this a conscious, continual goal: Contentment in current location. I think of that verse in the Psalms that says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” To some, this might sound like a suffocating statement–to be boxed in by God? How dreadful! To me, though, it sounds like a beautiful gift: To see where you are as a blessing from God, a pleasant place.

The place and concept of “home” is one that has always been very important to me; it carries some kind of spiritual weight in my life. I was worried about this when I married Guion, to be honest. He’s traveled much more than I have and it has clearly enriched his life to a wonderful degree. He’s spontaneous and he dreams big. He could also live quite happily in an Airstream trailer for years, traveling around the country, playing guitar, making friends on the road (à la David Wilcox). This lifestyle sounds like a cute, claustrophobic version of hell to me, but we are all asked to compromise for those we love, right?

We live here
We live here. Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville. Source: Me

Clearly, my view of the world is not everyone’s. Grace and I were talking about this last weekend and I told her my vision of the perfect life was to live in the same house for a hundred years and wake up every morning with a cup of tea and my husband and my dogs. She visibly shuddered. “Ugh, that sounds like the worst life ever,” she said. “I am going to travel forever; I’m never going to stop.” I believe her; she probably will. But I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m not that way. I wrote this because I think my perspective is an unusual, unpopular one. To fail to glorify world travel constantly is blasphemy among my generation. But this is what I feel.

I say all of this knowing that we will travel. I want to travel. I get excited just thinking about it. But at the end of the day, I just want to live somewhere. In one place, in one community. For the time being. I think we will stay here indefinitely, striving for contentment, but always open to possibility.

Family love: Win

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the sixth installment. All high-quality photographs from a wedding are courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Windley, Brother

If I was nervous about meeting Windy, I was even more nervous about meeting Win. He was, after all, Guion’s only sibling. What if he didn’t like me? What if he objected to my dating his only and older brother? What if we fundamentally didn’t get along?

As I was pleased to discover, it is impossible not to get along with Win. He’s probably the most likable person you’ll ever meet.

We love him!

Win is gentle and understanding. He listens far more than he speaks, which is such a commendable quality (and one that I could do well to emulate). You would think that more reserved, withdrawn people could have a harder time amassing a large circle of friends, but nothing could be further from the truth with Win. His quiet nature is magnetic to so many people. When we travel into Win’s territory — Raleigh — we are mobbed by his countless friends, his warm community that can’t get enough of his company. And for good reason.

The reader

I have always been fascinated by the interaction between Guion and Win. In many ways, they are very different. Guion talks almost constantly; getting a full sentence out of Win is a great victory. Guion possesses his parents’ endless social energy; Win seems content to be alone or to be with just a few people. Guion could get dressed in the dark without a thought to what he was wearing; Win has a well-cultivated wardrobe.

And yet. Despite these marked personality differences, their interests are almost identical. Both brothers are musicians, award-winning brewmasters, creative writers, former YoungLife leaders, and soccer players. Hobby-wise, you could not find two more similar people.

Love my bro-in-law

All of these brotherly overlaps and similarities aside, what’s been important in my relationship with Win are the things that the two of us have in common that I do not necessarily share with Guion. For example, Win and I share a love of literature and classic novels (something I have long tried to instill in Guion, but to no avail). We can talk with great enthusiasm about our love for dogs. (Our only point of contention is the family’s springer spaniel, Aoive, whom I love, but the Brothers Pratt are not so sure about.) He teaches me a lot about theology and principles of loving one’s community. As many ways as he resembles my husband in his interests, I love having conversations with Win that lie outside of those shared interests.

I am excited about the opportunity to have more of those conversations in person, because as of last week, Win is an official resident of Charlottesville. He will be participating in the Christ Church fellows program and we could not be more thrilled about having him in town.

Win welcomed me into the family with genuine warmth and a degree of trust that I did not deserve. He is willing to sacrifice his time and energy for the people who matter to him (as he so heroically displayed this past week when he drove to Lynchburg to retrieve my purse). He has always made me feel like a valued sister, and so I continually hope that he knows how much he means to me as a valued brother.

I light up when he introduces me to his friends as his “sister” — not “sister-in-law” — because that’s exactly how he treats me. No divisions. No qualifications. Just family.