It is in the air, literally. But it’s also on the ground, as fine as talcum powder, the ashes. And they are not metaphorical. California has had, or is having, scorched earth. The pictures of suburban ruin from the wine areas north of San Francisco shock with the suddenness of their deathly transformation.

And what is left feels ominous somehow. The powdery residue of the 3000°F fires that baked and vaporized households and lives is both a shock and toxic. Put modernity into a retort, and this is what you get. The remains of a lethal process, its self lethal. Rescuers are looking for bodies. There are none. The bones have exploded. It’s a matter of fragments and powder.

When I called my friend, neighbor and former professor, Leo, this very afternoon, I was saddened to hear of his recent fall. But that’s the whitewashed version. I was demoralized. And why?

I am asking these questions of myself, because at age 70, now is an excellent time to come closer to death and to loss. There is a cruel inevitability to the latter, in my book. But I am revisiting the ‘cruel’ part. Leo, now heading towards his mid 90s, will lead my next library book discussion group. However sad his fall, how glorious his rise.

I’m thinking about all this as I head to London. There’s something about setting off on a long trip that I find sobering. The plane may be aloft, but in anticipation I am more grounded than usual. Enough to take stock of what is important. There are things I enjoy more than others. There are people who mean more to me than others. And underlying it all, there is a heightened sense of limits. Which is as things are. As they should be.

And what is the sad anticipatory feeling? Behind it there is a question. Do I really appreciate what I have in life? For example, Jane. And in my current life, principally Jane. And what of my brother and sister? Do I appreciate that despite being literally separated in childhood…we have managed to forge bonds in adulthood? And what of the friends, particularly the ones I miss? Time and distance do force people apart. And what of the people who lie just ahead, the ones in the UK? I will begin seeing them one by one. Even before I see my cousins on the platform of their Gloucestershire railway station…I will probably recognize someone at Paddington. I have been coming and going through this rail terminal for the last couple of decades. If there’s time, I will duck into the station hotel to arrange my room. I know many of the staff.

The whole experience, the arduous trip between continents and the arduous wrenching from the bodily comfort of sleep in day and night…well, I hope to find comfort and enjoyment in the people that mark his journey. That has always been my hope. And maybe with time and age there’s no real difference, except a bit more consciousness. Much of my UK journey is waning yet constant. Like the capacity, at an almost Olympic competitive level, to drink tea and tea and tea.

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