I began reading Billy Collins' Aimless Love a couple weeks ago. A friend gave it to me for Christmas--Christmas, which already feels like such an unbelievably long time ago--and I've been wading through it a little at a time. I haven't read much of Billy's work and I'm not sure yet whether his style works for me, but I do find myself nodding a lot. I too have wondered about the empty chairs "down by the lakeside," and I also have trouble mustering excitement when told I've just missed out on some spectacular occurrence (unless of course we're talking about very, very good cheese).
I was reading The Sandhill Cranes of Nebraska and remembered an evening very many years ago by the lake near our house. I must have been twelve or thirteen, and some of my parents' friends came over--a couple who also had two children--and after an evening of 'cheer,' they decided we should walk down to what my mother relentlessly referred to as 'the point'. The point was this piece of land that jutted out into the water along the marina that smelled like dead fish and dog shit that seemed always to be shrinking. I'm not sure if it really was getting smaller, the little waves made by boats going in and out lapping away the sand and rubble, or if it was just that I was much younger when we moved there than when I finally left.
Either way, there wasn't anything particularly special about it. It was just a spot they liked to visit. We all walked down down there from the house and by the time we arrived, the moon was high in the sky. People talked without having anything to say, and then there really wasn't anything to say, so nobody said anything until finally one of them looked up and said, "Look at the moon! Wowee, look how pretty."
This comment created a ripple, and I swear I've never heard so many people just repeat over and over what the others had already said without saying anything new. It's like they each wanted to have seen it first and to have been the one to illuminate the beauty for everybody else. I've never been much of a sharer in that way and prefer to enjoy--privately and quietly--sights like a full moon without making a fuss by trying to rope everybody around me into noticing and caring about the same things as me, so I, in the way that I did as an adolescent, with my arms crossed over my knees, said, "It's just a moon, y'all, like any other night," and refused to look at it at anymore because I felt like all the talk had ruined it.
In this case, I definitely wasn't hearing about some great event after the fact, but the same feeling was there of just being generally unaffected by the exclamations the people around me hoped I'd get swept up by and join in over. I noticed the moon, and I did think it was pretty, but I just didn't feel exuberant about it, and I didn't really believe that they did either, which was part of the problem.
I never could understand the excitement with which people share about things like the size of the moon or, "the magnificent foliage," but I look at other people doing it--joining in and gasping and laughing and gripping their bellies, and I wonder: is it real? And then I wonder: if it is, where's mine?