That title is the tagline from a movie you loved. You remember it as “Everyone wants to be known,” but when you looked it up today you found that you were wrong.
Found, not known.
You thought of this line today as you finished reading a book that you loved. It was one of those novels that you wished would just keep going, and as the pages dwindled you pushed yourself faster and faster on the porch swing, angry because you knew it was going to end.
You thought you knew how the story itself was going to end, but you were wrong about that too. At first you were stunned, and then you were resigned, and then you began to appreciate it.
The book was, at heart, about being seen. Known. Found.
You lay (laid? something else you can’t seem to get straight) on the porch swing, and suddenly you remembered something else, a look in someone’s eyes.
This was a long time ago, during the winter Olympics, a year in which Russian ice skaters dominated the news. You were at a party of some kind, and a writer you had studied under was also there.
(This writer wrote only one or two sentences on your stories, at the end. He rarely line-edited, except to underline a phrase he liked or squiggle-line something he didn’t like. He was, in retrospect, the only truly helpful writing teacher you had. There was something about those one or two sentences; they got to the heart of the matter. Also, he left you alone. He let you be. He knew what you were trying to do and he defended you fiercely against others who didn’t.)
This writer was from Russia. He spoke English well, with a strong Russian accent. At some point during the party you were talking with someone about the Olympics, and you said something about Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, using their full names and pronouncing them as best you could.
It was at that moment that the writer turned around from his own conversation, dipping his head swiftly toward you, and met your eyes. There was a look in them, those dark brown eyes, that you couldn’t then decipher. It was gone immediately.
But you always remembered it, that decisive moment, the way he caught and held your eyes – there was surprise in his look, but something more, too. You didn’t understand it.
Now you do.
He, turned to the window and talking to someone else, had heard his language being spoken. Just a few words, but still, the language of his birth, his childhood, his heart. He had turned and looked at you in surprise and longing – he loved his country and he was far, far away from it.
You understand now because you’re older, and you too have been far, far away. Moments like his have come for you too.
When you get off the plane in upstate New York, and you hear that familiar flat “a” upstate New York accent, and you see the flannel, and the John Deere hats. The first time it happened you went weak in the knees with relief. You could talk again. You weren’t conscious of yourself all the time. You didn’t have to hold yourself in, hold yourself back. You were home.
Home, where you can sit in the diner with your father and Dwight and Charlie and John and the other John, and the waitress will come over and pour their coffee without asking and bring them their personal jar of strawberry jam.
Home, even unexpectedly, such as the first time you walked down the street in Taiwan and saw everyone crouching, squatting on their haunches, to read the paper, drink tea, talk with their neighbors – the way you had crouched all your life. Only before, you were the only one.
Everyone wants to be known.
Everyone wants to be found.
Once, you and your dog had a terrible day. This was in your first months together, and he had misbehaved in every possible way. You were so, so tired of reprimanding him and training him and trying to work with him, to no avail. He was tense and on edge and only getting worse.
You looked at him and saw his small body, his black curls, his legs rigid and his eyes bright and wary. You knew, somehow, that he was trying as best he could. Something in you changed and you said, “Come here, come here, sweet boy,” in a changed tone of voice.
His entire body relaxed immediately. His ears and head lowered, he trotted to you and looked up at you and let himself be stroked and spoken to soothingly.
Everything was different from that point on. For a moment, he had been seen, known. Found.
Once, in the classroom, a student read his work aloud. It was a strange piece of writing, unlike the writing that had come before. Indefinable, uncategorizable. Flawed, but there was something enormous and wonderful in it, and from the feeling in the air of the room you sensed that you were the only one who knew that.
After a silence, others in the class spoke carefully, trying not to offend, trying to offer up something constructive. You watched the writer deflate, slump, gradually pull himself into himself. You held up your hand.
“This is a very fine piece of writing,” you said. “Let me tell you some of the reasons why.”
You started to talk, slowly, pointing this out, and that out, and reading aloud particular passages. You watched the student come alive again.
You think of your friend, at 22, standing in the subway in Boston, wearing her red shirt and gray coat. She was waiting for her boyfriend. People swirled around her, walking, dawdling, running for their trains. She leaned back against the wall, watching.
A man, an older man in a suit, a businessman sort of man, emerged from the crowd and walked right up to her.
You, he said, pointing at her with his finger and looking straight at her, are beautiful.
That was it. He walked away and she never saw him again. But he comes back to her every now and then, and she sees herself again as he might have seen her, back on that day, in that moment.
Once, when you yourself were a small girl, and lonely, and holding everything inside, watching the world around you, a man said to your mother about you, “She’s got it.”
He was talking about you. You couldn’t have explained what he meant, and you still can’t. But those words have stayed with you all your life.
Everyone wants to be found.
Resplendent writing, Alison. I always gain some sustenance reading your posts, but this one was even more toothsome than usual. Thank you.
Beautiful. So very beautiful.
Sam and Ginger, thank you, truly. It might take many lifetimes to understand what all those remembered moments, like that moment at the party, are really about.
P.S. Ginger, I like how you refer to your son as the Gingerbread Boy. Made me smile.
That film and especially that book are treasures to me. The film resonates everytime we travel. The book I found at the library and like you I wanted it not to end. It sang to me. I returned the book to the library and then went out and bought it. It had to come home with me and live on the bookcase.
I am going to have that Russian writer’s look in my head today and your friend in red and grey…
I read this several times and couldn’t comment because it was too true to think about for very long. For that is the cadence in which my heat beats in its greatest despair: I have never been found and never will be.
It reminds me of one of my favorite lines ever, by Raymond Carver, which I just may have put on my headstone since I’m not too inclined toward getting a tattoo:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Oh, I loved both the book and the movie. But you know what’s my favorite right now? This essay. Such lovely, poignant, and true images. It made me think of my own experiences of being known. So rare and such a treat. Thanks, Alison!
Fills me with longing, what a sharp recall you have, and awareness of blessing.
I love that movie, must watch it again soon, I’ve still not read the book.
I was walking along the Thames embankment a few years ago in the sun, going to meet a friend I’d not seen for a long time. A slightly crazy but kind-looking man wandered past, he looked at me and held his hands spread out, not to touch but as though he could warm them in a glow that was coming off me, and we both smiled. Otherwise those moments have been very rare for me, I think.
really like this post, and the references to songs/poems i love on your whole blog. a.a.milne, for example..
anyway, i love this. i can completely relate to that hope to be found by someone else, recognized, pointed out to be special. yep.
Hi Alison —
I am leaving you a restaurant recommendation since it looks like you will be in Apple Valley at the library this fall — just down from there is an awesome Mexican restaurant — El Azteca — in a strip mall on the south side of county Rd 42. Great food, fast service, excellent atmosphere, and good deal — if you like that kind of food 🙂