~~Late last night, Watertown moved to the center of our and the world’s attention. Today, Watertown, our neighbor town up the street, is barricaded and empty of its population. But those who don’t seem to get enough of Watertown know a thing or two about its charms and its comforts–in friendships, in passing waves of the hand or a quick coffee or some delicacy which you can find only in Watertown; its simple natural beauties; and its unpretentious sense of itself. That’s our Watertown, and it is ours even if we don’t live in its navel, as we say in Armenian, even if we return to it day in and day out.
When I first moved to the Boston area, I wrote an essay about Watertown, excerpts of which I am re-posting today, on this unforgettable day. The complete essay was published in Ararat.
Watertown, Watertown. You’re one heck of a town! Always!~~
Every visit to Watertown intimates a promise — that in this magical space something which has the smell and feel of life lived can come about, does come about, something not too joyous or demonstrative, but a kind of wise and profound sadness mixed with fleeting moments of joy. For what is an immigrant — all immigrants — if not a bundle of contradictions? If not a mess of transgressions and loyalties? Lost chances and radiant dreams; departures and returns. Richard Rodriguez has written that “immigrants are our civilization’s prophets. They, long before the rest of us, saw the hemisphere as whole.” What Rodriguez says about Mexican immigration to the U.S. also applies to us here, on this stretch of Mount Auburn Street. Immigrants reject borders and passports; they know that our beginnings never know our ends; they see the world as whole in the face of loss and displacement.
Immigrants are the unsung poets of civilization, the raconteurs of stories trivial and profound. They love the world generously and foolishly because they know that everything, everything, passes. They know that, as Virginia Woolf has written, “the beauty of the world revealed and yet soon to perish , has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” There is nothing heroic or romantic in this knowledge, for the wisdom and joie de vivre of the immigrant have been extracted from geographical and psychic dislocation, the cocky self-assuredness from unspeakable turbulence and heartbreak.
My devotion to Watertown has not diminished over the years. As I grow older, I am more in need of its consolations. For when we are young, we are in the grip of wanting to live authentically, against the grain, asserting our individuality. When we grow older, when we are pounded and tried by life, we begin to think of things in larger, more complicated ways. When we are older, we are concerned with the species rather than the tribe. Here, on this stretch of Mount Auburn Street, one senses the ancient sadness of the species, even when the flags are up for this or that national holiday, when the sweets are bought for a birthday or a christening, the wedding party is joyously honking the car horns. The immigrant — all immigrants — has known turmoil, and only those who have known turmoil can console.