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What Comfort Then
The things that help us find our ease
I’ve been giving a great deal of thought these last few weeks to comfort. Not the “I’m so comfortable in this moment/place/relationship/whatever” kind of comfort. I’m thinking more of the things that comfort us.
People. Pets. Plants. Routine. Familiarity.
Our shipping container arrived recently. More accurately: the moving truck arrived, bearing the contents of our shipping container from the docks in Lisbon to our home in Setúbal. We last saw these boxes, crates, and plastic-wrapped bundles on May 13. It took exactly 12 weeks for our stuff to travel from our 46th Avenue home in San Francisco to the docks in Oakland; to the back of a ship; down the coast of California, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica; through the mouth of the Panama Canal; and on over the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is no small comfort in stuff. In your stuff, specifically. The things you have hand-picked, the things that have been handed down through years and families. Back in San Francisco, we found that making decisions about what fills a 20-foot container really helps you define your priorities. What matters enough to travel across the ocean?
Of course, the answer is different for everyone. We are not minimalists, but we didn’t bring everything. We pared down our possessions for months before we moved. We had long discussions about what was worthy of making the voyage.
In the end, our container was mostly packed with the things that comfort us: Art from our travels, from friends, from Filha. Books lovingly gathered over the years. A collection of soft blankets and thick rugs—everybody has a favorite, even the dog. Filha’s menagerie of stuffed animals and animal-shaped pillows. Marido’s handyman and carpentry tools—some that he’s selected for himself, others that were handed down from his father and from mine. Pots and pans gifted from my mother when I first moved away from home.
Could we have lived without this assemblage of stuff, left it behind? Of course. But I’m glad we didn’t travel light. I’m glad we invested in these particular creature comforts.
A friend asked if it feels like opening gifts on Christmas Day. It feels better than that, because I already know I will love whatever I discover. Indeed, each box I open is an exclamation point of delight. “Oh! It’s you again! How I’ve missed you.”
The unboxing and nesting will take awhile. The rooms of this new home are smaller than those of our old house, and the walls are harder (literally). It takes more planning to fit furniture to a room with no square corners; to hang paintings on a wall made of cement (with hidden treasures of electrical wires and water pipes running helter skelter throughout). We’re settling in, but slowly. I’m making plans for new bookshelves for Marido to build, shelves shaped to fit our new spaces. Shelves to hold the things we love to stare at. Things that make us feel most ourselves.
Today, Marido helped me hang a painting above my writing desk. This weathered barn once hung in the Illinois farmhouse I grew up in. I don’t know where my parents got it, but I’ve always loved it. As a child I would lose myself staring at it, imagining the world in which the barn lived. Imagining myself into it that world.
A significant portion of the work of writing involves staring off into space. Thinking. Waiting. Letting everything inside you go still so the words can fall into place. Throughout my career, every desk I’ve used for writing has been decked out with good things to stare at. Things that bring me joy and comfort. Things that quiet the noise, that help me make space for creation.
Now, in this new country, in this new life, I can stare at the painting from my childhood and feel the weight of all the LaDonnas I have been.
It’s not a heavy weight. It’s comfortable. Necessary. I let it settle on my shoulders and I know exactly who I am.
I have a book to finish writing this year—a memoir. I wrote 10 chapters before I arrived in Portugal, and I have about 10 more to go. It seems right, it feels fitting to finish them here, in this small sanctuary I am building and filling with memories of where I’ve been, and hope for where I want to go.
Copyright © 2021 LaDonna Witmer