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  • Writer's pictureL. Delaney

building the invisible structure

I head north in a car so weighted down by projects, it threatens to scrape the pavement. In a cabin on a frozen lake, my family gathers. For a week, we orbit the kitchen, stepping on each other's toes and eating enough sugar cookies to kill a small horse. We retreat to the cabin's corners with our respective work. My one-year old nephew bounces from lap to lap, a happy little whirlwind upsetting puzzles, crafts, and Zoom meetings; distracting us from over-ambitious piles of books; learning new words from the adults, and hopefully forgetting a few. In the afternoons, we break from our tasks to hike into town together (there's the local distillery's tasting room), or drive to one of Michigan's many nature preserves (this one's a favorite), bundled into enough handknits---courtesy of Mama George---to mount a respectable Arctic expedition. In the evenings, the wide oak table yields to fierce battles of Catan, waged to the tunes of Motown or Mussorgsky.

On the final afternoon of this convivial hibernation, I pick up the book Pilote de guerre, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry tells me:

“No single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to slowly be born…It is true that a sudden illumination may now and then light up a destiny and impel a man in a new direction. But illumination is vision, suddenly granted the spirit, at the end of a long and gradual preparation. Bit by bit I learnt my grammar. I was taught my syntax. My sentiments were awakened. And now suddenly a poem strikes me in the heart… if this evening something is revealed to me, it will be because I shall have carried my heavy stones toward the building of the invisible structure…I shall not have the right to speak of the sudden apparition in me of another than myself, since it is I who am struggling to awaken that other within me.”

The little person who appeared in our midst one year ago arrived as an already-beloved playmate. We pretend to eat his feet ("Better watch out, we're really going to do it this time!"). We sing him words. We bundle him up for the cold because that's where the adventure is, and without saying it out loud, we all want him to know this. As we laugh to watch his little snaggle-tooth laugh, I wonder what worlds he carries inside of himself. Worlds which he will give expression to, using the words we now sing to him.

As each of us is born across a lifetime, we carry memories of snowshoe hikes and Christmas cookies in our skin, bundled into the stalwart armor knit by those who love us. Through snowdrifts and forests, across battlefields of life and board games, we head out to meet the stranger within ourselves and the strangers within those we know best of all.

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