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Jean-Léon Gérôme: Leaving the Oasis (1880s)

" … having re-earned our presence by being good and gone."

Folk songwriter John Gorka once insisted that as a traveling performer, he left more often than he ever came back. There was a time when The Muse and I lived like that. We lived as if on a continual grand tour, departing before gravity could catch us, always on the move. The Damned Pandemic slowed our viscosity. We rarely take leave now. A whole other existence lays on the flip side of mobility, a settled life, a more dependable existence. One can come to think of one's self as indispensable by default, since the home place rarely needs to get along without one's presence. Absence becomes unthinkable and the promise of LeaveTaking feels like an existential threat. I spend a few days in growing denial before finally accepting the inevitability less than twenty-four hours before departure time.

In the final hours, The Muse suggests that we might fly instead of drive, and I put down my foot. With This Damned Pandemic, I won't fly.
Maybe I've found the deal-breaker. Maybe I'll stay home! I conveniently explain that my presence on this excursion always was discretionary, essentially unnecessary. She could fly alone and probably save some money while I stayed home to reinforce my irreplaceability, taking care of the cats, just as if those cats were in any way terribly dependent upon me. I am much more dependent upon them, to regulate my days, to keep me awake, to provide some focus. The Muse decides that she'd rather I accompany her, so my daydream of remaining quickly evaporates. We'll drive the twelve hundred miles. I accept that I will be leaving.

We've enlisted a friend to feed the cats and harvest the garden, which has just then come into its own, and to water plants. I swear that 90% of being home involves allocating water. The Muse spends most of the last day setting up an elaborate watering system, programming timers, setting sprinklers. She performs this effort because I couldn't, water timers having been designed by programmers, they're extremely hostile toward users like me. I could spend a week or a month without ever scratching the surface of understanding how to set them up. The instructions seem expressly designed to confuse the user, The Muse figures them out by intuition, I guess. I almost successfully stay out of her way. I rely upon her seeing eye ability to deal with electro-mechanical mysteries. They're beyond me.

I pack as the final act of acceptance. I'm no longer a picky packer. I don't worry about making a good impression. If I forget something, I can live without it. One of the great benefits of LeaveTaking comes from reinforcing just how optional possessions can become. The essential home wardrobe never was strictly necessary. Ditto the diet. I can comfortably live for a week or longer with less than a suitcase full of my precious possessions. My routines actually ache to be disrupted. A more tolerant me emerges on the road, one more willing to just let things go and come. I can miss a meal without making a Federal case out of it, live without whatever I'm destined to forget. The pharmacy let me down, reporting that they'd run out of my prescription. I'll have to wrangle a refill while traveling, good for at least a half day of entertainment.

The Muse insists that something always happens after a LeaveTaking. Moving out into the world seems to unsettle The Gods, who are always watching, and magic happens. Some strange convergence will occur. It always does. It always has. Careful plans won't come to pass. Something better, previously unthinkable, will come instead and we'll be the unworthy beneficiaries. We'll come back richer than we left. The cats will shun us for a day or longer and wonder why we abandoned them without a lap to laze on. The sun will continue to come up each morning in our absence and we will soon enough return, having re-earned our presence by being good and gone.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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