25 March 2013

Green snows and white grass

Years after I left Ithaca, a small town in Upstate New York, best known for being the address of Cornell University but made up of lots more than students, professors, libraries and labs, I reconnected with an old friend, Tony Del Plato. 

Tony was an activist.  He sided with the natural world and people who were oppressed or marginalized one way or another.  He knew the big picture but didn’t miss the details.  He was one of the most articulate Ithacans I’ve met and this includes professors from many disciplines.  I would meet him at various protests and demonstrations.  We would sometimes chat over coffee. 
When I reconnected it was winter in Ithaca.  I was writing from sunny, tropical Sri Lanka.  So I ‘wired’ him some sunlight and warmth, knowing well how snow-laden Ithaca can be harsh on the bones and how the short days hem people in with gloom. 

Tony responded and although he didn’t/couldn’t write it in, I couldn’t help reading ‘shrug’ in what he had to say: ‘In summer one enjoys the sun and the warmth, in winter the cold, whiteness and short days’.  It was like saying, ‘I know the grass is greener over there brother, but hey, snow is beautiful too!’ 
Now there are times when friends from Ithaca post pictures on facebook.  Louise Silberling for instance, my ‘big sis’ in the Development Sociology Department at Cornell.  She clicks away through the seasons, the joys and sorrows, fullness and vacancy as captures her fancy at the particular moment.  She posted ‘winter pics’ recently.  Brought back memories.  Nostalgia invaded. I longed for that Ithaca of such a long time ago, and with it, everyone who made Ithaca what it was for me although most of them have gone their ways to destinations planned and unplanned. 

It is good to remember.  Longing, though, is something else.  Places change.  What was is not what is because what was was made of people, relationships, contexts and these don’t remain consistent.  I visited Ithaca in 2004, that’s 4 years after I ‘left for good’.  I met some professors and some Ithacans who are more resident than those who come to Cornell.  There were 2 friends from that other time, Aaron the Artist and Chad the Doctoral Student.  so we met, talked old-times-talk. It was nice.  Nice, but different.  In 2006, I revisited.  That was yet another Ithaca.  Chad had finished his PhD and left. The other was about to.  But there was another friend from that earlier time who had come to Ithaca to sit and write her doctoral dissertation.  So we met, the three of us;  Aaron, Ayca and myself.  It was nice and differently nice.
I will not visit these Ithacas again, but when I felt a heart-tug seeing Louise’s pictures, I also remembered Tony Del Plato and his thesis on seasons.  

These are hot and humid days in Colombo.  They are also bright days.  Days of familiarity that are made for thanksgiving.   Here, I have all my friends and they are all resident within me. Here I have my Ithacan friends as well, for memory dies slow and life offers enough metaphors that prompt revisitation.
I don’t know where Tony Del Plato is right now, but wherever he is, I am pretty sure that’s where the grass is greenest for him. Or the snow whitest.