Never Truly Empty
It usually starts with a feather or a flutter of wings. Maybe a bit of bird dung on the welcome mat. That’s how I know the doves have returned, that my front porch has become a nesting ground. I don’t know why they come back every year, what’s so appealing about the corrugated metal top of the porch light they choose for their roost, what promise of protection they have from the terracotta tiles above. I suppose they feel safe here, sheltered from nature’s whims and threats. Albeit for only a part of their year, it’s somehow their home.
As an adult with three grown children who’ve moved across the world, I’ve thought a lot about what makes a home. Whether it’s the tangibles: a favorite pillow or mug, the TRX hung at the ready, the souvenir knickknacks on the shelf, the books and photographs that document a lifetime. Or instead, whether it’s the intangibles: the echoes of tears and laughter, screams of delight and horror, the memory of a broken heart, a celebration, and all the messiness and chaos of decades of living.
Stepping over the tiny sticks, the bundles of fluff, the smears of eggs gone bad and rejected, I sense the physical loss of my own offspring, the ways my house has been transformed by their departure, by what is now missing. And I wonder, if that means it’s any less a home.
But I know better. Because it’s not about the structure, the feathers and padding we use to make it soft and welcoming. All that is evanescent, able to crumble, disintegrate, or drift away. It’s about the lingering remnants of a presence, about actual beating hearts.
Because once they’ve marked their territory, with a blink, a smile, a step, or a flutter–with broken shells, abandoned slippers, crushed twigs, or an old bicycle, there remains the more definite imprint of a life force. The chicks can fly the coop, and they do, but the house forever retains the undeniable memory of lives lived.
Caroline Goldberg Igra has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in international, academic art history journals, a book on the work of WWII artist J. D. Kirszenbaum (Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2013) and a novel, “Count to a Thousand,” (Mandolin Publishing, 2018). She blogs for the Times of Israel.