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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Human Harbour

Many months ago, my cousin and I were talking about an old college friend and we googled her that night to try to find her. A quote in a newspaper article led us to her current hometown. A search with her name and her current hometown yielded her place of work. And her place of work yielded her email address. My cousin was back in touch with her.

The side note to this story is this strange idea of googling. Of finding snippets from another person's life and piecing together a puzzle to find them. Or even not contacting them but building this mental story of their life since you last saw them. You know what they were like when you knew them, but somehow we disregard the idea that people change and we continue their story with the small facts that we find. So it feels like we still know them, even when we're 10 years out from the last time we touched base. I love google stories. Gretch (oh...more on Gretchen in a moment) told the greatest google story of all time last night at dinner about her google twin--a woman who shares the same name (and therefore the same search results) but is her polar opposite. I am collecting googling stories at the moment. Leave yours in the comments section below or email me at I love hearing how people either got back in touch or share their name with another person. Or people that you're still trying to find. I love not only the reconnections with people we know but the new connections that form between unrelated people due to these searches.

Oh...but back to this friend. My cousin got in touch with her and then called me yesterday morning--could she come over that afternoon and could she bring Jess, the old friend? I went to graduate school in the same five-college consortium as my cousin while she was in college. We are two years apart and I think of her more as a sister than a cousin. While I certainly knew how much she and her friends meant to me at the time, seeing them step out of the car yesterday was like sailing back into a human harbour.

Graduate school was a really shitty time for me. I came into it from a bad place and I left it in a bad place. And in between, I was often sad and frustrated. I'm still glad that I went; if not for the degree and the opportunities that degree has opened for me then for the lessons I learned about myself and about others. It's all going back to that damn silver lining (that I'm still updating--sorry if your comments haven't been moved up to the list yet). I can't imagine not having that grad school experience--it changed me so profoundly. It's a little like infertility in that way. It sucked all around, but since it happened and I can't do anything to change that, I have to marvel at the ways it has changed my outlook on life. Infertility has certainly made me a different parent. And my grad school experience certainly made me a different woman. If you think I reach out to people and place inclusiveness as one of my highest goals, it is due to those graduate school years.

When you're in a shitty experience, you create human harbours--those friends or people who bring you comfort simply by seeing them or being with them. I'm sure you've picked up many of them during infertility. You may not even be completely conscious of their designation as a human harbour, but maybe this post is making you stop and think about how you return to the same people after a negative or when you're in a terrible space emotionally. I say people because they weren't always friends that I knew intimately. But if this were the movie version of Melissa in Wonderland, at the end of the film, all the people who would step out to wave me back to the real world while I bid them a teary goodbye and told them how much they helped me along the way, those would be my human harbours. Clerks in stores I frequently visited, a secretary in an office, and then my cousin's circle of friends.

My cousin and her friend, Jess, ran a place on campus called the Kosher Kitchen (otherwise known as the K if you went to Smith). Every Friday, they spent most of the day cooking. At night, people would come for dinner. Then they would spend a few more hours cleaning up. Around ten or eleven, we'd either still be hanging out in the empty kitchen or going dancing at a nearby club (the Grotto for the two or three Northamptonites who read this). And it sounds so silly to write this, but my cousin and Jess and her girlfriend, Gretchen, and Nina and Marite and all the other women who had my back even when it was an unconscious unknown decision that they had my back--they were my human harbours.

I would sit in the K while they cooked and grade papers and feel like I could stay through graduate school. Being with them made things feel manageable. When we were dancing to Tina Turner while we cleaned, I felt empowered. I really meant it when I screamed those words with Tina: "you better be good to me!"--even if I forgot that confidence by the next morning. I love my cousin and by extension, I love her friends. I could not have made it through those years without them. Especially because my best friend, my lady-when-waiting, didn't join me in Massachusetts until after my cousin graduated college and moved away.

Seeing Jess get out of the car yesterday was like Harry Potter walking downstairs to his kitchen in Book Five before he is brought to the Order of the Phoenix. That moment where he is back with the wizarding world and seeing Lupin who he didn't even realize he missed. That's how it felt seeing Jess come out of the car or later meeting up her girlfriend, Gretchen, at the restaurant. It was like returning to the Smithing world that I didn't even realize how much I missed.

These people, these human harbours, I can never thank them enough. And yet they never really have a clue how much they meant to you in the moment. There's no way to really express how tumultuous everything felt during that time period and how their presence alone was this space of calm. Thank you Lisa. Thank you Jess. Thank you Gretchen. Thank you to all of the lovely ladies of Wilder and the K. The ones who imagined into existence Brian-the-reunion-date and taught me how to make soup for 50 and who didn't make me drive home that night when I just couldn't be alone driving through the cornfields. I love you.


bleu said...

Thank you Mel, you are most certainly one of my Human Harbours.

Lori said...

Thanks, Mel, for the concept of a Human Harbor.

I have had many, and I hope I've been one on ocassion, too.

What a wonderful post.

carrie said...

This is a wonderful post. And I have a good Googling story for you. When I came back to Boston for grad school, I Googled a person I used to work with, a nice guy I remembered fondly. We were never really that close, so I don't know to this day what possessed me to try to get in touch with him, but I'm sure glad I did, since now I get to wake up next to him everyday :) He responded to my first email immediately, we got together for dinner a day or two later, and then become friends, and eventually started dating and are now married. If it weren't for Google, who knows if we would ever have gotten back in touch!

pink said...

Well, my Google story is that my real name is so obscure that if you put in both my first and last names, the only hits that come up are me. And, if you Google my first name, my website and a restaurant in Italy switch off as the first hit. There's a reason that I blog anonymously. :)

Starfish said...

What a lovely post.

My googling story is that I had a dream about an old boyfriend from like 20 years ago. He was wearing all white and hugging me, I think to say goodbye. I woke up from that dream sure that something had happened to him (he was an unsavory sort). When I googled him I found out that he is a network marketer (where you convince others to sell this product for you and you get a percentage) for a controversial health drink. He was always a weird sort.

Bea said...

I know exactly the type of people you mean.


Grad3 said...

Mel, good post and it's nice to see that many of us have been able to find harbors. Like Lori, I hope that I have been able to give back as well.

When you get the chance feel free to email me or leave it on my blog (whatever you prefer) about the woman who used IVIg (if she is willing to talk with me). It would be nice to hear an experience. Thanks!

Kami said...

I have a google story. About 6 months ago I was trying to get in touch with an old roommate. The last I heard he had moved to New York from Montana. I actually did a zabba search and tried every NY number for "Ferucio Last Name" but they were all disconnected. So I just searched for just his surname (also unique) and noticed some people of that name in the San Mateo area where I knew he had family. I found someone who was born about the same time (early 1900's) and gave her a call.

Angela? I am trying to track down an old friend by the name of Ferucio."

Oh, Fuzzy?! (yeah, his family nickname)

It turned out that Angela married Ferucio's brother back in Italy before joining them in California. She remembers the house "Fuzzy" was born in.

She also recently lost her husband and she told me all kinds of beautiful stories about him. How they met, the role he played in the extended family, how she was trying ot continue that legacy the best way she knew how.

She asked if we had kids - so I told her a brief history of our TTC struggles and she was very supportive. She said she would pray for us.

We ended our conversation hoping that one day we would get to meet.

Oh - and my ex-roommate is back in Montana and I reconnected with him as well.

Liza said...

What a great story! Of course I have to love that you're a Smithie. (And now I'm curious about what you thought of the AQ article on infertility! I was the token lesbian. I found my way here b/c we are getting ready for round two.)

megan said...

i love the concept of the human harbour....i only wish my harbours lived closer to my house.