by Zinta Aistars
We talked about the ability to change weather, move clouds, reverse winds. We talked about art and kitschy fun things to make the eye dance. We entered the Open Door, invited in, and spoke in song. We sat over a good meal and talked about time travel, tracing our own lives back to our roots, and finally, decided yes to crossing the seas this fall. It is time. And there is so much more to talk about.
Alda and I had spent the day at Saugatuck, Michigan, an artsy resort town on Lake Michigan, filled with colorful art galleries and cafes and boutiques. It was a plan we had had nearly a year ago, shortly after we first met. A year ago, the weather and busy schedules had gotten in our way and Saugatuck didn't happen. A year later, the weather forecast was foreboding: low temperatures with chill winds and high chance of rain. This time, we refused to cancel, come what may. Alda had stated simply, "We will create our own sunshine."
So we had. She drove south from Holland and I drove north from Kalamazoo, and we met just outside of town. The skies were gray and drizzly, but our spirits were bright. This is why I had quickly grown to feel close to this wise woman--she created her own sunshine. I had had enough dark in my life. If I couldn't find the sun, by golly, I would have to learn to create a ray or two on my own. She has already helped me to learn this fine trick.
Over dinner in a sweet bistro in Douglas, sister artsy town snuggled up against Saugatuck, we raised a glass to the one year anniversary of our meeting. It seemed destiny. I had a colleague who told me soon after meeting me, hearing my obviously-not-American name, that gee, he knew a Latvian, too! We should meet! We did, and soon learned we had a surprising number of commonalities in our lives, even while in other places our paths had veered wide apart. Quite often, Alda would stop in her tracks and remark on how similar were our eyes on the world, "Do you think we are so alike because of our shared heritage? Or are we just so alike?"
Who knew. Perhaps. Generational memory, ethnic bonds reaching across time, space, distance. Perhaps it was something else, something more mysterious and unnameable, something about bigger plans and bigger pictures and reason to the madness, but we were friends and we understood each other and we were kindred spirits and in the ways we were different, our differences brought a welcome balance.
A difference: I had been traveling to Latvia since I was 15 years old. At one point in my life, my trips to the country on the Baltic Sea were yearly pilgrimages. A large and important part of my heart beat on those shores. Alda, however, had never been. Her ancestry, her roots, her long ago generational past were still wrapped in mist, a shadow in the unknown. She longed to go, see, experience. I ... I wasn't sure anymore. The story is long and convoluted, complex and tangled. But here it was ... I hadn't been back in ... how long?
14 years, I wrote ponderously in my note that zipped across the ethernet to a port city in Latvia, one that I had thought of as home once, a city that had been home to my family for many generations... it's been 14 years ....
His note zipped back by end of day: You've been gone for 16 years.
16 years. And if we target a return journey for fall, it will be 17.
I looked at Alda across the table, listened to her tell me about her excitement to go, see, experience at long last, and finally to have a friend alongside, someone who had been, seen, experienced, and could serve as a guide.
"I'm no guide," I said. "Not anymore. So much has changed. So much ... " my voice withered away and curled in on itself. "It would be almost like going again for the first time," I finished.
And knew instantly that wasn't true.
You can never go home again. Anymore than you can step into the same river twice. More than one lifetime had passed since I last stood on those white Baltic sands, and I was not the same woman. The world I had left behind near 17 years ago no longer existed.
Yet another world did. My notes zipped across the ethernet and across the ocean daily, and daily the replies came. Years were crumbling, edges fallling away, the occasional chunk loosened and separated, layers peeled away, more layers, until the soft edges of an immovable core showed its tender self. That place where time can do nothing.
Alda's eyes shone bright with anticipation. Her voice rose a pitch. She wanted to discover a home she had never known. Home is where the story begins. We would go. We would gather information, renew or obtain passports, arrange airfares and rentals and lodgings. I already had invitations from overseas friends that their homes were open to us, the welcome mat had the dust shaken out of it and was on the front step, and the light at the door was on in the long, dark night. A glowing beacon of welcome.
I had wanted to go back too many times to count, but the time had not been right. I had not, life had not, the winds had not been in my sails.
We talked about the ability to change weather, move clouds, reverse winds. The weather forecast for Saugatuck had been for cold rain. Instead, we walked the day in cool and ever brightening sunshine. I had at long last found the right travel partner to make the long journey home.
Photo: Ventspils Old Town Hall, Venstpils, Latvia
Photo: Saugatuck Village Hall, Saugatuck, Michigan