Anyway, I was on the subway tonight, and at the stop before mine, a man said to someone—I could not, and did not, see either of them—“Get home safe.”
Why do I say this often, O Reader? It is something people in my family often say, almost always say, really. I come from farm-stock, Midwestern people. Should I begin here? I find myself saying it to anyone, whether they are walking, taking a cab, driving, or flying in a plane. Is the farm somehow an important place to begin?
This command, this injunction, comes from a world when travel was dangerous. Anytime you put your fate in hands of a bus driver, a train conductor, or the wheel of your own car, was something that was not like the stillness, the safety, of home, of table, of bed. You can die out there, you know. You can die.
I was fortunate to move to a New York that was dangerous enough, or used to be, so that friends gave me a couple bucks if my wallet was empty, so that if I got mugged on my way home, I had some cash to give that angry, desperate other on the other end of a knife or gun. Get home safe.
This has, I think, to do with the history of the night. It has to do with that dark, unlit place, that time, when travel was uncertain—I mean a time, which is also a place that was mysterious, and unpredictable, before electric lighting, before everyone lived in cities. A time when we lived by the sun, a time when after the sun fell, we had a long night of moon, if we were lucky. Get home safe, we said, because in that darkness, in that confidence we put in the driver, the conductor, the pilot, there was a certain uncertainty that we might never arrive home.
I hate to share this, but, I recently had a disturbing death—two of them—in my extended family, where people headed home, did not get home safe. They were making their way in the most banal fashion, yet they did not get home. They died.
The people who died were sort of in-laws, the sibling and spouse of an in-law, and it made me think of how I would feel if one of my siblings had this fate right now. It was unthinkable. My mind literally could not go there, could not imagine this, this thing that happens to all living things.
Any unexpected death probably has a similar effect on the survivors of it. I am talking of people I knew so little, yet it needs must remind me of the preciousness of the people around me. Do they know I love them so much? Have I told them recently? Told them enough? How do we tell this to anyone? I expect that we do the best job we can, and yet it is probably never enough. Get home safe is always an I love you.
I am, frankly, very thankful that I have been instilled with this fear of the unpredictable night, the exigencies of travel. Life turns out to be always fragile. It is not a bad thing to be reminded of that of that. Have I told you how much you mean to me?
Get home safe.