Today, as I was reading Lila by Marilynne Robinson, I got that rare, soul-shining gift that comes when we read – the pleasure of recognizing something that I had never before put into words.

But when she did go into his office he wasn’t there. Of course he wouldn’t be hiding from her, but that was the first thought she had. The room just felt like he should be in it. The whole church felt that way. People who live in rooms and houses don’t know about that. It seems natural to them. You might pick up something belonging to somebody and feel for a minute how theirs it is, particularly if you hate them enough. But a whole roomful of somebody’s days and thoughts and breath, things that are faded and they don’t see it, ugly and they don’t care, things worn by their habits, it seems strange to walk in on that when you’re almost nothing more than a cold wind.

I don’t know that feeling much, to walk into a space and find it wholly someone’s. But I do know it here, in this house, 210 years of life walked into these boards.  The way these square-headed nails above my desk have been fingered for decades by people passing and thinking, I need to hammer that back in. 

It is, perhaps, how I know she is here, the woman of this house.  How I know she is kind and gentle, because the house is. . .


I first noticed it when I was about 5. I walked into my friend Melanie’s house, and the whole place just smelled, well, like their house smelled.  Not bad. Not unpleasant. Just different than my house.

Of course, I couldn’t really smell my house. My home smelled neutral.

But I knew what my dad’s classic leather jacket smelled like in the closet, and the bottle of Channel No. 5 that my mom kept on her dresser but never wore.

You’ve had the same experience – of knowing a person’s home by its scent, the way the bodies and habits and objects of that space fill the very air.

Too, I imagine you know that it is to walk into a place and know it’s empty, even if you cannot see it all.  Or to be in a room and know someone else has entered.


I suspect there is something scientific at work here, the way electromagnetic energy shapes a space, changes the way the molecules move just a bit.

But I am not a scientist, and I take my knowledge in mystery . . . in the spaces between letters and words, the way what we do not know fills us up and makes us whole.

The way a few words written by a woman in Iowa can change the entire way I know the world and the way I move through it.

Goodness, how I love reading.