Finding Comfort

The wedding is planned. We have a few odds and ends to put together, but the main thing we have left is just confirming the number of attendees for the chair rentals and caterer. (Have you sent in your RSVP yet? We really need those.)

Now, we’re focused on packing up my things from the house where I’ve lived for 5 years and moving them into Tyler’s apartment. We’re doing so gradually but making large strides. All my books and two bookshelves are already set up. My winter clothes, scarves, blankets, and boots have been sitting in Tyler’s guest bedroom for months.

Along the way, we’re doing our best to clean out clothes we don’t wear or that don’t fit anymore, books we aren’t enjoying, and knick-knacks that no longer spark joy. I find myself most prone to doing so when I first get up and at the end of the day, putting off going to bed in favor of closing up one more box.

My late grandmother and I are nostalgic and sentimental and have a talent for squirreling away letters, cards, bookmarks, and “dust catchers” as my dad calls them. This weekend, I rediscovered several birthday and Christmas cards from her. I found one my late aunt had also written in. And my late great-aunt. And friends I’ve long ago lost touch with. I’m getting rid of a lot, but I’m also grateful to have squirreled away so much. Like photos in frames that I can now use to reserve tables at my wedding reception. And a set of 4 hand-crank music boxes I bought in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid almost ten years ago.

In college, I displayed them on my bookshelf and desk, ever ready for my fingers when I felt sad or lonely. I would take one—maybe the one whose box featured a detail from Klimt’s “The Kiss”—and sit on the edge of my bed, slowly winding the cool silver crank. At some point, perhaps when I moved in five years ago, I lined them up in a padded bag and tucked them behind the journals on the shelf in my bedroom to be organized later. And there they stayed. No batteries to corrode. No dust to taint. Just waiting, their location sliding out of memory.

Saturday night, I carried the bag to the sofa and drew them out, one at a time, keeping them in the order I’d originally packed them in. I turned each crank, remembering the tune as the notes sounded in the dark room. Then I played each again. The same solace soothed my heart as the first time I’d ever heard them, in noisy, echoing gift shops at the Palace of Versailles and the Prado Museum and the Gaudi Museum.

I had also listened to them the day I dropped my first college class. And the morning I started drafting my first book. And the afternoon I realized one of my best friends found me dispensable. And the night before the first day of my internship. And the evening my grandfather died. They were lost by the time my grandmother, and then my aunt, passed. So I played them again with those women in my mind.

Because today is September 11, I think it’s a fine day to take comfort as I remember.

Several years ago, I discovered “Boatlift,” a 12-minute documentary about the hundreds of ordinary people who brought their boats to evacuate lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. It was the largest maritime evacuation in human history.

The story reminds. It draws one in. And it focuses on goodness and courage and our shared humanity. If you haven’t yet seen it, today may be a good day to do so.

I also recommend the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of Gander, the small Canadian town that hosted thousands of passengers who were stranded when the US airspace was closed. I saw the musical in New York more than a year ago and have listened to the soundtrack countless times since. A performance of the first song, “Welcome to the Rock,” is here:

If you aren’t sure how deeply you want to wade into the painful waters today, I hope you find the comfort you need.