Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Pursuit of Knowledge, The Practice of Discernment (part 1)
We spent the weekend with a house guest. This is news in my little corner of the world because I never, ever have a house guest. Some people are hospitality central, always opening their homes and having family and friends come and stay a spell. This is not me. If I exude anything, it's apparently not the kind of softness and warmth that makes folks set up shop for a weekend. For supper, sure. But a whole weekend of suppers? No.
But this particular extended family member had not a clue of how unprepared and ill-suited I am for overnight entertaining. The third child of Mr. Blandings's aunt, you could barely even call this young man a cousin--especially since Mr. Blandings himself hadn't laid eyes on the fellow in more than half a decade.
But the phone rang last week, and I was greeted by a friendly voice that addressed me in a way that implied familiarity.
"MG? This is Malcolm, Mr. Blanding's cousin."
Ah, yes. Malcolm. The legendary Malcolm. While I wouldn't have been able to pick Malcolm out of a crowd, I surely knew him by reputation: graduated in the top of his private school class, begged off attending the top-tier art schools he'd been wooed by, backpacked his way across Australia and Ireland before returning stateside to pursue undergraduate degrees in mathematics and linguistics, flitted off after graduation to teach in Asia, more backpacking throughout Europe, months spent in South America ...
What, this isn't your life? :-)
"Malcolm! Wow. How are you?" I asked, unable to shake the image of the wiry boy who had attended my wedding 13 years previous.
"Well, actually ... I was wondering if I could come for a visit."
Selfishly wondering how many juicy tidbits of Asian cultures he could impart on my children (who are studying Core 5, after all), I answered, "Absolutely! What do you have in mind?"
"I can be there in an hour. I'm 45 miles away according to google maps."
And this, my friends, is the joy of a vagabond relative. You just never know when--or where--they'll turn up.
Mr. Blandings managed to put Malcolm off for a few days due to a round of illness we had coursing through the house. But sure enough, on Friday afternoon, the doorbell rang and there before me was not the 14 year-old who had vied for the garter at my wedding, but a tall, rustic-looking young man closing in on thirty with the majority of his life's belongings strapped to his back and a pack of cigarettes peeking from his pocket.
Jo, Atticus and Logan stared at him with half-concealed fascination tinged with horror.
"You smoke?" Logan asked. Note to self, I thought, give a crash course on manners to the six year-old.
"President Obama smokes," Atticus volunteered helpfully.
"Yeah, but I don't trust anyone who smokes. Seriously. Everyone knows how bad it is for you. What kind of a choice is that?" Logan countered. Note to self, I screamed internally, give a crash course on manners to the six year old tonight in the bathtub when no one else is around.
And this is how we began what turned into an incredible adventure with the brilliant, irrepressible cousin Malcolm.
Cousin Malcolm allowed as to how he may stay a night or three. And this is where things got really interesting. Cousin Malcolm had apparently made his way west from Boston, where he had deplaned from his latest wanderings in Seoul. Not one to travel by traditional means, Malcolm had alternated between walking and riding his thumb across the entire length of the US, and was now working his way east to his parents' home.
"You hitchiked?" Jo asked as he unlaced a pair of very experienced Chucks.
"I caught rides," he said, not above playing the semantics game.
"It's really dangerous to hitchhike. Someone could, like, kill you." Yes--this was Logan.
"There are lots of really interesting folks out there," Malcolm answered, as if that settled it.
Apparently, it did. Because for the next two nights, my children lived with a modern Jack Kerouac. And let me tell you, it was eye-opening for us all.