01 January 2011

‘Home’ for the Holidays

The Karnows’ dinner table, Christmas 2010.
Photo by WVM

Living far from home, and quite often entirely uncertain where “home” as such may lie, I have for most of my adult life depended on the kindness of friends — and over time, several of these friends have become a kind of family to me, and their homes have to some degree become, if not my own, then warm and familiar shelters from storms both meteorological and metaphorical. In recent weeks, I’ve had occasion to reflect on this phenomenon, because several of these friends have yet again opened their homes and their hearts to me. (To say nothing of their larders and wine cellars.)

The Karnows’ tree, Christmas 2010.
Photo by WVM

Two of these friends, Kara and Cathy, have pushed the phenomenon somewhat farther, to a new and surprising frontier: in sharing their families, they have not only adopted me, but these “sisters” of mine have made their real-life brothers seem like kin to me. For example, imagine my pleasure at Christmas, when Michael gave me a down vest exactly like his own. Suddenly we were a team, with matching uniforms!

And yet the feeling I have doesn’t seem quite team-like. The only teams I’ve ever played on weren’t playing games, but working toward a professional goal. My adopted families are about process, not goals. We’re not striving; we’re evolving.

We’re dancing, as well.
At Jeremy’s, New Year’s Eve.
Possibly Incriminating Photo by Rachel Winokur

Perhaps it’s a deficiency in my language, or in my personality, that accounts for my need to construe these friendships as somehow familial — but there it is. Explain it how you will, I can’t see it any other way. And I feel at home with my friends, in their homes.

Kara’s couch is my refuge; Mark’s Vermont, my Thanksgiving. Cathy, as if by magic, opens doors all over the world (three continents and counting!), then welcomes me inside. And Elise’s kitchen has been the scene of the nearest thing to fatherhood I’m likely ever to know.

Uncle Bill in the kitchen, with Emily and Elise.
Photo by Prabarna Ganguly©

Indeed, I’m reminded that there is a special place reserved for friends who make of their children my family, as well. Beyond the axiomatic belief that “It takes a village,” certain of my friends have entrusted to me that which is most precious to them, and sought to include me in the kids’ upbringing, often with specific duties and responsibilities. Without which, nothing.

I’m acutely aware that, in every case, my closest friends chose to become my family. This mystifies me: it’s one thing to be stuck with me by an accident of birth, and quite another to make a conscious decision to adopt me. These people are otherwise intelligent, rational, fully functioning adults. And yet they have chosen — without being forced — to overlook or to forgive my many, many unattractive qualities. (I would list a few, but don’t want to remind anyone of the random trait or two that might be a deal-breaker.)

Mal de pays: In search of France, I returned to the Cloisters.
Photo by WVM

Cathy recently suggested that our secret may be specialness: starting with our road trips to New York, when we were still just kids, we have tended to have adventures, separate from the routine of our daily lives. When those adventures are planned, they are exciting; when unplanned, they are magical. Yet Cathy’s personality is such — so curious and keen — that I’m confident that I’d never grow bored, no matter how humdrum our surroundings or how frequent our encounters.

Every magician needs a mustache! Kitty, Cathy, & Bill.
Big Sur 2010.
Photo by Elyakim Rinat©

And if Cathy’s right, how then to explain some of my other relationships, which have in fact been strengthened through my admission into the daily routine? Aren’t my coffee with Kara and my dinners with Elise and the kids in some way magical, too?

(The answer, if you were wondering, is yes.)

And so I begin the New Year with a toast to my friends, upon whom I depend more than they may guess. No matter where I am, I find my home — and sometimes, my self — in their embrace.

Reaching out — to Big Sur with love.
Photo by Sara Remington©


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Bill. Your friendship means a lot to us. I am extremely grateful to be a part of your family. So much joy that we all get to share. All because of you.

Love Kara

catherinekarnow said...

Cathy says,
This is a wonderful piece, Bill. So Bill: witty warm and wonderful. You will always be my friend!
Bisous, Cathy