When I returned to full-time work the first time my daughter was 10, my son not quite 7. Arriving home at the end of that first day, I sat down on one of our living room chairs to call my best friend on the telephone. “How was it?” she said. “It was OK,” I said. “It was different,” I continued. “Actually, it was so different, I don’t know who lived my regular life today because I sure didn’t.”
And so it went. That life, of total absorption in the minute-by-minute heartbeats of my children, was over. Never to return. Even now I get a lump in my throat recalling their velvet skin and plush flesh. How dumpling they felt, fitted to my lap.
This week I went back to full-time work again. This time the world I’ve inhabited for the past two years continued on without me, just fine. It didn’t grow up, get sharp elbows, and go off to college all the way across America. The good part about online communities is that their interactions persist, in text, at URLs, on pages. You can catch up. I haven’t yet been able to read all the blogs I used to, but I still get the happiness of comments here, still drop in on Twitter. I’m guessing that I’ll figure out a routine to stay in touch with online friends.
And this time, the world to which I returned also felt a bit as though it had waited for me The work environment is so familiar. Like children who find Narnia at the back of the closet, except in place of snow and witches we have that special carpeting native to offices, and a badge at our waists, “Oh” we say, “Oh!”
On the other hand, I walk the streets of San Francisco as might an alien from another universe. I’ve stayed put a long time in these suburbs and cities are something else.
Do you remember, or have you heard tell of an old television show called Mork and Mindy? In which Robin Williams approached all common objects completely without assumptions? In a famous scene, Mork tosses an egg into the air saying , “Fly, be free!” I find myself noticing everything as though it’s a revelation. As though the moral equivalent of breakfast might at any minute sprout wings of liberty.
I walk to work thinking, oh look, people read their phones as they walk! Look, you can order salads from those same phones, to pick up at the local deli. Look, leopard ballet flats. Look, chain straps, tight pants. Look, 2011.
Sometimes I think, “Oh. The sky!” In San Francisco the patented California periwinkle peeks out above or between gray office buildings. It’s head-turningly vivid. Causing, apparently, the invention of compound adjectives.
So when you are 55 and still in good health, when you can walk fast, given the right shoes, the world is an astonishing and wonderful place. Even the workaday version, especially when come to new and surprised.