I have a talent, it seems, for picking---without knowing much about them---books that will cut me to the core. Solnit's thoughtful, carefully observed nonfiction blends personal essay with literary criticism and historical survey; the first chapter, "Apricots," is a breathtaking meditation on aging, Alzheimer's, and unlikely inheritances.
I've been thinking a lot about place and a sense of belonging one feels in a familiar domain; this passage captures so much of what I haven't been able to put words to:
... when everything was at its worst, I was asked to talk to a roomful of undergraduates in a university in a beautiful coastal valley. I talked about places, about the ways that we often talk about love of place, by which we mean our love for places, but seldom of how the places love us back, of what they give us. They give us continuity, something to return to, and offer a familiarity that allows some portion of our own lives to remain connected and coherent. They give us an expansive scale in which our troubles are set into context, in which the largeness of the world is a balm to loss, trouble, and ugliness. And distant places give us refuge in territories where our own histories aren’t so deeply entrenched and we can imagine other stories, other selves, or just drink up quiet and respite.
The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest. Being able to travel both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that sometimes comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.