I’ve been away.
After 21 years of residence in the heartbreakingly beautiful town of Flagstaff, Arizona, I decided to narrow my possessions down to only what would fit in two suitcases (and about 12-15 boxes of books that are now jammed most of the way into a closet at my mom’s house) and move across the world to South Korea.
Two weeks ago today, I came home.
Two weeks ago today, I looked up at the stars aligned in a familiar pattern and glowing with a brilliance I had forgotten possible, and in their light, I breathed the first really comfortable breath I had in over a year.
Nine days ago today, I sat on the patio of my favorite bar, and I watched the sun cast it’s glow across the buildings, and the sidewalks, and the walkers on the sidewalks, and the hundreds of tiny yellow leaves that had fallen from the trees bursting through the concrete and that were now blowing down those dingy grey strips of footpath in the still summery feeling breeze.
For the past two weeks, I’ve watched as my town–as my home–has appeared before my eyes, bathed in a new and beautiful light.
It’s not that I didn’t see these things before. I always knew that Flagstaff was special. As I prepared to leave, I wrote post after post on the blog I was writing at the time about saying goodbye to the pieces of it that I loved the most. But, what I did find while living and traveling abroad was that not all the world is so well lit. I knew this intellectually, of course, but it wasn’t until I’d experienced dozens of different cities and towns throughout Asia and come back to this place that I’d loved even from within its borders that I truly understood the brightness with which this place shines.
The poem “Strawberry” by Paisley Rekdal, from which I took the title of this blog, is embedded in this post from my blog about moving to Korea. It’s a poem of anxiety and of failure–about all the ways we can and inevitably will fail. Through this listing of failures, though, the speaker is able to take back the word and the concept of failure and to spin it. In some ways the failure in Rekdal’s piece is as destructive as the failure we are familiar with–one which may cause us to “succumb” “be destroyed” or “die completely”–but at the same time, she paints failure as a thing to boldly own, failing “the way cowards only wish they could fail,/ the way the brave refuse to fail and the vain fear to.”
By the final line of the piece, we readers have been coaxed to view failure in an entirely different way, as something that is not only deeply personal (“in every particular sense of myself”), but that is also in and of itself sort of beautiful. We come to look at failure, as the speaker does, “in every new and beautiful light,” and see how bright it can be.
It was failure that first planted the seed of leaving Flagstaff in my head, and failure adapting to such a dim, foreign place that brought me back. Those failures, and all my others before or since made me who I am today; they had a hand in creating every particular sense of myself. They also brought a new brightness to the stars and a new richness to the rays of sun. They bathed my home in a new and beautiful light, and it is to them, and to all the new lights yet to shine that I dedicate this blog.
I am grateful for all of my failures–for all that they’ve brought into my life and all that they’ve shielded me from. May we all be so lucky to fail as brilliantly as Rekdal’s strawberries.