Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

What Counts


I came to East Lansing, Michigan, last Wednesday, May 14, with my father’s oversize watch on my wrist, to mark the 12 months since his death on May 16, 2013. That self-winding timepiece that consistently lost 4-6 minutes a day was one of the few mementoes of my dad that I chose to keep. But it got lost here this past week. Or rather, it decided that it wanted to stay in my dad’s longtime and last home, where I grew up and couldn’t wait to leave.

Now I can’t wait to return, as I board a bus to depart on May 21. For all that’s been lost here, I’ve discovered there’s just as much that’s been found. I’ve found, for instance, what a Midwesterner I really am, despite city life elsewhere. With little else to distract, with far less culture or politics or, often, possibility, people concentrate on each other here. That can be in the form of gossip or petty annoyances, of course. Yet it is frequently a concern for and genuine interest in others–a pleasure in the simplicity of human sociality and centrality of our social relations.

That’s worth all the whirlwind of enticements in the world. So I’ve discovered pleasure in the thought that my dad “wants” his wristwatch to stay here, maybe as a way to underscore to me what counts: people.

And lo and behold, one of those people here–an old family friend who’d long only been an acquaintance and is now sister-friend-confidant-support thanks to a year here, last year, of so much lost and found–dug this spare wristwatch (pictured here) out of her jewelry box this morning and thought it perfectly suited me. She passed it along to me as replacement-reminder, and I’ll carry it gladly on my wrist. We both know it’s not the thing itself, nor things at all, which come and go, and offer little warmth. For her, it’s care toward others that counts.

Her mom–now my second or perhaps first mom, now that my bio-mom is dead this past 7 months–told me that she didn’t want me to leave, whispering “I love you” in my ear this afternoon. She knows little of my politics nor writing nor life outside here. All she knows is how I tended to my sick and dying parents, and how I fell in love with my mom and her during that time. I came back here for her, aging and in pain, but always so kind to others no matter the discomfort. For her, it’s goodness that counts.

“You belong here,” she said as a good-bye that felt equal parts true, touching, and sad. I want her to live so much longer, to be in East Lansing when I next return to this place that now is a home.

My heart is more broken and open than ever, as time takes me away from what counts: love.


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This entry was posted on May 22, 2014 by in Dispatches from Life.
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