Everyday Life

April 8, 1920
Imagine what it would be like if, as you were going quietly about your business, you were suddenly to find yourself in the eighth century instead of the twentieth. That is what has happened to Molly and me — and yet people say the age of miracles is past. I can fully appreciate the sensations of the Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. The Albanians live to-day precisely as they lived when Rome was a scattering of huts along the Tiber. And I am here to see it!
I still say, as I said to you in Paris, that until you have been back in America you can’t fully realize what it means to be going somewhere again, to something you know nothing about, which may turn out to be anything. The sheer unutterable joy of it! To be once more in strange lands, among strange peoples! That first night on the train I could n’t sleep for joy at being alive. I lay watching the lights of tiny villages flashing past, and something far down inside me sang to the rhythm of the clicking rails. After a time I spoke to Molly, a little doubtfully, and she answered me with such a ring in her voice that I knew she felt it, too. And had we even suspected what we were going to —!
Listen — I am living in a strange, wild land of incredible mountains; untraveled and unknown, and full of the delight of forgotten centuries. The people? They are most unexpected; a grave, courteous folk, keenly intelligent and fiercely proud. They give of their best to the stranger within their gates, and expect nothing in return. This last statement will be sufficient evidence that the Albanians are primitive and without culture.
I am working in the hospital, of course. It is a poor thing, but better than could have been expected, and is the result of tragically heroic efforts on the part of the Red Cross and the impoverished Albanian Government. A monument, in fact, to the torn nails, bleeding hands, and aching backs of a few nurses.
Before we came the building was used as a storehouse by the Italian Army of Occupation, and it stands on the edge of the town behind the gendarmes’ barracks and a stone’s throw from the bazaar — just where the Durazzo road begins to spin out toward the foothills. It is a nine-room, twostoried, mud-brick house, old and feeble. Its red-tiled roof sags wearily, and crumbling walls of a dead garden straggle in the rear. In the background, rising out of purple distance, is a gray wall of mountain whose snow-streaked summit is half hidden by wandering clouds.
By day the unhappy place bakes and shimmers in the heat, its windows staring sightlessly at the painted mosque in the bazaar. By night — you should see it, Rose! I know whereof I speak, for it is night as I write this, and I am on night duty, the only American in the place. By night, my child, hordes of mangy rats run about the floors, in and out of the shadows. One is staring at me now, with cold eyes. Bats circle through the dark rooms, and bedbugs swarm over the walls and ceilings. ‘Italiani, non Albanesi,’ said my interpreter casually.
Outside in the garden hideous soft toads flop along the paths; snakes rustle in the tangled grass, and the damp walls drip and glitter in the moonlight. And in another instant, Rose Lane, I have got to go out into that garden, because there is a tent pitched there in which are the overflow of patients from the hospital.
Don’t be too horrified. We are cleaning it all up as fast as we can, and in a little while we shall have an excellent and clean hospital. This is, as I have said, the worst. The rest is a dream of the Arabian Nights. And you shall hear about that next time.

May 10, 1920
I miss my night duty a little. It was giving me time to adjust myself, and it stopped too soon. You see, there were no other Americans about, so I lost all sense of contact with home, and became acutely sensitive to my surroundings. I was just beginning to understand, when I was plunged again into the very American atmosphere of day duty. I’m sorry. I liked the moonlit nights there on the edge of the town, with only the Albanians and the gypsies to keep me company.
And yet, it may be that night duty is a bad thing, after all. One thinks too much through the long hours. When my evening’s work was done I used to stand in the doorway of the hospital waiting for the moon to rise beyond the mountains. Behind me in the darkness the gypsies spoke softly in the lovely Albanian tongue. Water babbled in the gutters; far away a dog howled; and on the night wind came the reedy notes of a pipe. Above the treetops beyond the barracks a single minaret gleamed white against the mountain wall. Sometimes Constantine, my interpreter, — a slender olive-skinned youth, with the fierce black eyes of the people of the Southlands, — came silently, to stand beside me. And in the midst of this I found myself thinking, with a stupid persistency, of Boston — of why it was that I had to leave there and come here. It seems so idiotic.
Struggling to find some explanation, I tried conjuring up little pictures of familiar places: Major Cranston’s office, cool, immaculate, and pleasant in the morning sunlight; Tremont Street at noon, crashing with traffic and smelling of hot asphalt; Beacon Street, turning away its eyes lest it behold the Common, sprawling and full of laughter beneath the trees; Louisburg Square,— there’s a personality for you, — her lights shining softly through the dusk, so kindly, so gentle, with never a frown for the ragamuffin, yet so delicate in her aloofness toward those who do not understand her. She does n’t notice that there is a piece of orange peel there at the base of that statue. She would n’t mind very much if she did notice. Her thoughts are of other days, and when the thin moon slips along the roof-tops she scarcely heeds.
I don’t know why I think about it at all. I’m here, and I’m satisfied to the very depth of me. Why can’t I let it go at that? One thing is certain; I don’t want to know why I left home badly enough to go home again to find out!

Jumping canaries. Rose, we ‘re having a revolution! I can’t wait for you to answer my last letter. Yes, I know, there is always a revolution in the Balkans, and all that, but I’m in this one! It makes a difference.

The present state of affairs was precipitated as follows; Albania has only just become a republic, having finally escaped from the tender ministrations of Turkey and Austria. In April the very first Albanian Parliament met, and plans were made for a standing army, a foreign policy, roads, schools, and so forth. But, being a very new government, it not only had no funds, but was very shaky on its feet. At this moment Italy appeared on the scene and tried being a big brother.
The Albanians don’t like it, of course. They’d rather mess up their country themselves. But there does n’t seem to be much they can do about it. It is true that from time to time Italian soldiers, in the mountains, disappear and are never heard of again. But then, these little accidents will happen. A revolution, now, would be another story.
Have you ever heard of Essad Pasha? He is Albania’s bête noire, a traitor, the one man whom no Albanian mentions without a curse. He betrayed Albania to the Serbs once, and now he lives in Paris. That is a trifling matter, however, for he has plenty of money. Money enough, even, to make him king of Albania if he could only get some nation like Turkey, or perhaps Italy, to back him.
One cannot say exactly what happened, but it is known that certain well-dressed European Albanians have been making little trips through the mountains, and somehow the mountaineers have got the idea that the present Albanian government is not a government of Albania by the Albanians, but of Albania by Tirana. Naturally they feel that this will not do at all.
And so for many days there has been a growing tenseness in the air, and our ragged little army of gendarmes has been doing a lot of drilling. None of us knew what was going on, but something was obviously wrong.
I am on the ‘Mobile Unit’ now, going into the mountains daily to hold clinics in the villages on their bazaar days, and I have noticed the appearance of barricades at the village gates, and signs of growing restlessness among the people. Still no one says anything.
Three mornings ago we awoke to find the foothills that surround Tirana covered with armed men. Night before last, about eleven o’clock, without any warning, the attack began. A steady pinging crackle which lasted all night. There was absolutely no other sound. The personnel of the Red Cross did a lot of running around, and the night nurse at the hospital spent the night on the kitchen floor, preferring rats to bullets. But no one else seemed disturbed, and in the morning Tirana was calm and quiet. So was the army on the foothills. Can you beat it?
Goodness only knows what will happen next. The Colonel has given orders that no member of the Red Cross shall go outside the city gates without permission, That does n’t include the Mobile Unit, of course, so four of us — a doctor, a chauffeur, another nurse, and myself — chug serenely along the Durazzo road every morning, our car streaming flags — white, Red Cross, and American.
It had been my intention, when I came here, to write you of the commonplaces of everyday life, just sketches, you know, full of atmosphere, and so forth. But how can I, when there is nothing commonplace to write about?

P.S. What price Boston now?
Three weeks later
For three weeks we have been in a state of siege. Talk about nervous tension! After two days of it we should have welcomed a good brisk fight.
In the streets, through the heat of the day, groups of men talked in low tones, separating at the approach of a stranger. The prefect was shot down, in front of the mosque, by an unknown assassin. The bazaars were closed. All day, on the shimmering foothills, armed men moved like a swarm of white ants, the smoke of their fires curling up into the blue. Now and then, at irregular intervals, a single bullet would sing over the walls. They got on our nerves, those bullets. One never knew when or where they would come.
At night a strangeness descended upon Tirana. When one walked along the streets, suddenly from a tree overhead would come a sound of heavy rustling. In the dark narrow streets one heard the thud of feet running, and of other feet pursuing. There were signal fires on the mountains. And everlastingly that stray bullet. Day after day our nerves tightened. It seemed as though something must happen. But it did n’t, until night before last; then it was n’t much, and only added to the strain. It was a short, horrible scream, and the sound of a multitude moving over the cobbles in the lane behind the Government House. There was nothing more, though we sat up for hours waiting.
Yesterday morning at dawn Molly and I were awakened by the familiar crackle of rifle-shots, and with one move we leaped for the window. In the courtyard the bullets were already pinging on the tiled walls. ‘It’s come at last,’ we thought, and ducked, as the windowpane splintered over our heads and a bullet lodged in the wall above Molly’s bed. We spent no more time at that window, I assure you. Dragging on sufficient clothes to be respectable, we ran out on the little side balcony and watched from there. The luck of us, to see such a battle in these days of batteries, aeroplanes, and hundred-mile fronts!
Out on the plain between Tirana and the foothills, in the yellow dawnlight, we saw them: a long line of men advancing; and, going steadily out to meet them, our handful of gendarmes, whose numbers swelled momentarily as the men and boys of Tirana raced to join them. Both lines of men were dropping in the grass. There came a double spurt of flame, a sharp crackling, and two long tails of smoke whipped across the plain.
I was jumping up and down in my excitement. Molly says I yelled like anything. But then, so did she!
The firing became constant. Tiling on the courtyard walls chipped off, bit by bit. The morning air stung our nostrils, choked us a little. The crawling lines had almost met. More and more tall mountaineers lay still in the grass.
Suddenly something happened. Exactly what, I do not know. But I saw that the men in the attacking line were leaping to their feet, were running in great bounds toward — the foothills! After them, with wild yells bursting from their throats, ran the gendarmes.
We watched until, even in the growing light, they could be seen no more. Far up among the foothills a house burst into flame.
In the Holy Garden a mourning dove called softly. Tirana was silent.
And Tirana remained silent until about ten o’clock, when the first gendarme trudged wearily across the stone bridge. Behind him, in straggling groups, came the others — all grinning, not one missing, and not one unwounded. And their women went out to meet them. We heard the singing.
At sunset they were still singing, and there was dancing in the streets.
Are you glad, Rose, to be in Paris, and out of horrid revolutions? You are not!

June 12, 1920
Where did you get that idea? Don’t you know that the World War was not fought to end wars? It was merely a rehearsal for the next.

I don’t know that I can tell you much about what is going on underneath, here. It is all a part of the general clash along the east coast of the Adriatic, of the struggle of Italy and Jugoslavia for the possession of Albania.
No, I don’t think we are starting another conflagration — yet. It is, as you said, too soon. But if Albania loses her freedom something will happen right away. She will never submit to it. If you could know the intelligence and fierce pride of these people you would understand. Albania is already the fuse attached to the charge of gunpowder in European affairs, and if she begins to smoulder — !
You are quite right. I can’t expect to go on watching fights forever. But who said I expected to? Or even, necessarily, wanted to? Don’t, misunderstand my frank enjoyment, my dear. It is n’t the fights that make life over here worth while to me. They, like men, give a great deal of zest to life, but that does n’t mean that I want a fight around all the time, any more than I want a man around all the time.
But about the fights. They are n’t what really matters. What really matters is the everyday life, such as I am living now. Yes, one can still have it. And it is nicer here than any place else I ‘ve been. In spite of wars and revolutions, and so forth, there is something peculiarly peaceful about this country. The days go by slowly, lazily. No one hurries. There is always to-morrow. We work all day on the Mobile Unit, up in the mountains. When the shadows begin to lengthen we come home, coasting the car down the mountainside, singing, the wind in our faces. Come home to bathe, and change our clothes, and go riding up the Elbassan trail, or out the Durazzo road, or to the old Roman Bridge.
These trails! I can’t tell you how I love them. The hot baking rocks; the blistered mudholes; the dry rustle of withered grass underfoot; the cool smell of ferns deep in lost ravines; cloud shadows on the mountains; blue columns of smoke far across the valley; the sound of waterfalls. There are places where one can relax in the saddle, and sit looking across the miles of mountain peaks to where the sun goes down into flaming clouds.
You hear a footfall on the rocky trail behind you, and an Albanian pauses by your stirrup. He looks at you with keen, friendly eyes. ‘May you live long, Zonja.’
You reply, ‘And to you long life.’
Gravely he touches forehead and breast. ‘May your trail be smooth, Zonja.’
You watch him striding easily down the steep path. Life could well be long here, you think, for time stops in this land of hot sunlight and color. A day or a century — it is all one.

July 10, 1920
So much has happened since I wrote you last.
In the first place, three days after the revolution Essad Pasha was assassinated in Paris. No one knows who did it, but I should say it was someone with sense. Anyway, there is the end of one of Albania’s many troubles.
And now Italy, also, is out of the way. Just plain kicked out. I saw it. But I doubt if getting the Italians out of the country has by any means eliminated Italy.
I hardly know where to begin, I’m so full of the little personal things. By instinct I should start with the moment when the big truck stood waiting in front of the mess while Captain Stevens said good-bye to his wife, and Mose Williams, with tears of envy in her eyes, pressed her little 25 Browning automatic into Molly’s hand. But that tells you nothing of the situation.
It was like this. The revolution was scarcely over, and things settling down to a normal routine, when there began to be little skirmishes between the Albanians and the Italians. Nothing much. Just little pot-shots here and there. But the feeling against Italy was rising. In a little while, no matter what went wrong the Italians were blamed for it, and when you have a situation like that it is time to do something about it. But Italy could n’t — or would n’t. Anyway, she did n’t. The Italian officers kept sending to Italy for reënforcements, but no reënforcements came. Italy was busy elsewhere, and she underestimated the strength of Albania.
After a little we heard rumors of riots in Valona. Then word came that the Italians in Valona had seized every Albanian of fighting age in the town, and put them all in a prison camp on an island in the harbor. My dear, from one end of the country to the other the Albanians rose as one man, picked up their guns, and started for Valona. Day after day they tramped through Tirana; old men, little boys, and hundreds upon hundreds of splendid fighting men. Said Bey, at the head of his own troops, departed the first day. That young man is a whiz! Long life to him!
There were endless rumors of lighting, and then one day, through the hot afternoon stillness, we heard a low rumble, too steady for any thunder. We had heard that sound too long in France not to recognize it, so when an exhausted courier arrived in town two days later we were not in the least surprised to hear that the Italians were shelling Valona from the sea.

We heard how the Albanians had surrounded three hundred Italians in the town of Tepelini, had cut off their water supply, and had kept them there until they were forced to surrender. We heard how the Italians, in their scattered little outposts, were appealing frantically to Italy for help. But none came, and their numbers were thinning daily, thanks to the marksmanship of the Albanian mountaineers.
And, most exciting of all, we heard that the courier had brought a note to our Colonel, asking for aid in caring for the wounded and prisoners. The note was from the Albanians, of course. But the Colonel was in Venice at a conference. What should be done? The Medical Director was fearfully worried. It would never do for the American Red Cross to seem to take sides, yet how could he refuse an appeal for help?
At last he decided to send two operating teams down with supplies. And oh, my dear, Molly and I were two of the four nurses picked to go! Captain Stevens was to be in charge, with Dr. Theobald, a woman doctor, as assistant. We were to take two truckloads of supplies. Which was not so simple as it sounds, since there were no roads, and we should have to go straight across country, trucks and all.
There is no use in my going into the details of that trip. It took us five days to go sixty miles, which may give you some idea of what it was like. We slept on the ground at night; we lived on condensed milk, hard-boiled eggs, and bully beef; we filled in mudholes so we could get across them — enormous mudholes, thirty feet or so in diameter. Twice we barely escaped running off a precipice. The second time the front wheels of the truck actually went over. I was in that truck, and it certainly gave me a bad few minutes. We crossed a morass on a wobbling plank-walk thing that had been built by the Austrians, who thought it was a bridge. We built a huge raft on two pontoons, to ferry us over a river. We were mistaken for Italians and shot at. I can’t begin to tell you all of it. But you shall see the pictures we took.
We spent three days in Fijeri, while Captain Stevens went away to locate the wounded, and then we moved on to Kuta, arriving at the tag end of a frightful battle in which the Albanians descended on the Italian outposts and wiped them out completely. The Albanians turned over the quarters of the Italians to us, and we set about making a hospital of a long building full of wounded. I was presented with a hut and asked to make an operating-room of it in three days. You should have seen me — and it. But I did it, with the help of two Italian prisoners and many buckets of whitewash. On the third day, in the afternoon, it was ready, and Dr. Theobald removed an eye by way of christening. Meantime Italian aeroplanes came over and sprinkled bombs on us, and an occasional shell dropped in our front yard. We could hardly expect anything else, being in the centre of the Albanian headquarters.
It was impossible to move anywhere out of the yard without stumbling on a dead Italian. Poor fellows! It was n’t their fault. I pitied them from the bottom of my heart.
We stayed a week, and then Molly and I were recalled to go back on the Mobile Unit. The rest are still there, though there is not much to do now.
On our return we found Tirana celebrating the victory, and learned that the Italian troops were to be withdrawn at once. It’s good to be back. Tirana is a lovely place, so green and still. We go riding again over the old trails at sunset, and swim in the pool at the old Roman Bridge. Ramazan is beginning, and Tirana fasts and sleeps by day, and feasts and sings all night.
This world is a pleasant place.

August 10, 1920
Why haven’t I been writing ‘rockbottom’ letters? I don’t know, my dear. Really I don’t. I suppose it is because I have been more preoccupied with myself and Albania than with myself and life. It may be that I am at last grown-up. Anyway I am beginning to realize that if I wish to get anything out of living I shall have to learn how to do it. And it strikes me that, one of the first essentials is to ‘take the cash and let the credit go.’ And now that I don’t care terribly about anything I find that I enjoy everything more. It was only when I expected something of life that it pinched me. Since I’ve stopped caring and expecting, the shoe seems to be on the other foot.
I admit that I am complacent about it. But why not be complacent? This might seem to be contradicted by the way I rush off, with a whoop, to wars. But, as you say yourself, wars are n’t really life. They merely help you to appreciate tranquillity.
I have n’t been bored for some years. I doubt if I ever am again. Everything is too interesting.
I was talking with a girl the other day. She was twenty-one, and as she talked I seemed to hear faint echoes of myself. She said she was bored. That life was horrible. That she hoped she’d die when she was forty because she could n’t bear to be any older than that. (Mercy! I don’t think I was ever quite that bad!) She said, a little consciously, that she ‘s’posed I’d think she was blasé but’ . . . And then she explained to me, most, earnestly for one so blasé, that nothing in life seemed to have any meaning.
‘But why should it?’ I inquired. She looked at me pityingly, the way they do, and said I did n’t understand. Poor darling!
Ramazan is over. All day long the great drum of Byram rolls its tremendous voice through the city. At sunset the jar of cannon startles the birds in the square to shrieking flight. But the vivid night-life of the bazaar is over until next year, and its streets are dark and deserted. The sky is no longer red with the leaping blaze from the forges. The shops, where the silks and gaudy handkerchiefs hung in slashes of color, are boarded up and silent. The street of the coppersmiths is full of black shadow, and there is no sound of many little hammers beating on ringing metal. During the day, in the clinic, the long line of patients with indigestion grows rapidly shorter.

July 18, 1921
Our trip to South America is all off. Molly’s mother died suddenly in June. The poor kid is still numb with the shock of it and not writing many letters. But I think she expects to stay at home for at least two years.
As for me, I fled like a scared child, to the bosom of the M. G. H. I had n’t. meant to. It just happened, I was spending a week on Pinckney Street, and one day, standing on the top of the hill, at Anderson Street, I caught sight of the familiar ivy-covered buildings at the foot of the hill. ‘Good old M. G. H.,’ I thought, and somehow, presently, I found myself wandering through the cool old corridors.
It got me. It always gets me. The orderly bustle, the smell of ether and soapsuds, the rattle of trucks, the clang of the ambulance gong! They are all a part of me. The old M. G. H. brought me up by hand.
I watched the preoccupied nurses, hurrying starchily; the house officers galloping up to ‘The Flat,’ four steps at a time. I looked out at the redcoated patients under the elms on the lawn. I saw the same old sunlight making the same warm squares of color on the floor of the Big Brick Corridor. And I remembered the old days. I saw myself, a young nurse again, skinny and wild-eyed, chasing to X-ray behind a truck. All at once, Rose, I wanted to belong again. I wanted to hurry through the corridors with my hands full of papers and my mind full of medical terms and hospital gossip. I wanted to feel a stiff uniform collar cutting my neck. I wanted to see the superintendent of nurses coming, and to wonder frantically if my cap was on straight. I wanted to hear the chatter and clash in the dining-room, and the voices of many nurses, all cursing the food — which, by the way, is very good as hospital food goes.
When I finally came out into the stuffy air of Blossom Street I was the slightly astonished possessor of a job, taken for one year. I was to have charge of the Nose and Throat Department of the Out-Patient. I was to teach etherizing, and I was to come July first. That ‘one year’ scared me a little. I wondered if I’d be able to stick it.
But here I am — and thus far quite contented. It still seems miraculous to me to have everything in the world to work with. I have worked so long with nothing at all. I can hardly understand the complaints of the other head nurses about equipment. It seems so amazing to me to have more than one of anything. I suppose in a little while I’ll forget and grumble too. One always does. Then there is the food. Three meals a day, all quite different. To be sure, it begins all over again the first of each week, but when you have lived for a long time upon precisely the same thing three times a day, every single day, you are overwhelmed at such variety. And the baths! My dear, you can have a bath at any time of day, and use all the water you want to. But the nurses take it quite as a matter of course, and fuss about the rule which says that no baths are to be taken after ten o’clock at night.
My job is devilish hard, but exceedingly interesting, except for having so many helpless doctors around. I’d forgotten they were like this. They never can find anything. I never saw the beat of it! Then there is the red tape. I suppose it is necessary in a big institution like this, but it irritates me exceedingly. When I want a thing I want it quick. I don’t want to wait until day after to-morrow for it.
Socially speaking, life is most, pleasant and busy. I don’t have very much time for regrets and memories — yet. What it will be like when the novelty has worn off I can’t say.
At the present time I am interested, absorbed, and busy, which is the best thing that could happen to me. I am not restless, as I was when I came home before. I may even be going to settle down. Who knows? Only don’t begin writing me about Persia, and Egypt, and Siam. I don’t think I can stand it.

June 3, 1923
Really, I had n’t meant to go so long without writing you. But when I think of you in Bagdad —!
I’ve chucked my job, after sticking on it nearly two years. I left in April, and started specialing nights at the Phillips House. Am living with four of the girls who left at the same time I did. Miss Johnson says that during the last eight months of my being in the Throat Room she expected me to leave any minute. I don’t know just what gave her the idea, as I was still fairly contented. It was the Smyrna disaster that upset the apple cart.
I heard that the Red Cross was considering sending people over to do relief work, and that was all I needed to send me flying to headquarters to find out if there was any chance of my going. At the time, they said that nothing had been decided, but asked me if I would consider going to Greece on a publicity job. Would I? My goodness!
In my madness I rushed home and sold my Ford — which I have regretted ever since, as the Red Cross did n’t send anybody after all. It was a sweet Ford, though shambling.
Anyway, my restlessness dated from that time, and I finally left, though not till long after the Smyrna trouble was over.
I’m writing this on night duty. Don’t worry, my patient is sleeping. I’ve always liked night work, as you know, and this night duty is particularly pleasant. I’m on the seventh floor, which is always cool and quiet, and has the loveliest view in Boston. On one side I can see all the city sleeping, and on the other is the Charles River, which never sleeps. From sunset to sunrise, the Charles River Basin is a continuous poem.
Have you ever seen the Basin at night — strung with gold chains, and the black water streaked with wavering reflections? All night it is so, and I am never tired of looking at it. At dawn, when the lights go out and the milk trucks are rumbling along Charles Street and the trees begin to show green, there it is again, the old river — softly blue, with the gray bridges looping over.
I like it all, as far as it goes. But it seems strange not to see anything else ahead of me. If I wore ambitious in my profession it would be different. But nursing is n’t really what I want to do, although I like it, and always have. Its limitations are what I object to. If I want to go any further I shall have to study medicine. And I would do so if the urge were a little stronger. But it would mean eight years of study, only parts of which would be interesting, and I don’t care quite enough about the rest to make the game worth the candle.
Stupidly enough, it seems infinitely more worth while to catch in words the mood of the river than to be head etherizer somewhere. With my mind I perceive that it is stupid, but my perception of it does n’t alter my feeling in the least.
I wonder what I should have been like if there had n’t been any war? I wonder if I should have been perfectly satisfied with my little world? I think probably. I’m sure I shouldn’t have been lazy, as I am now. And I should undoubtedly have realized my ambitions, since they would n’t have aspired to anything higher than a superintendency, I might even have married, as the final Great Adventure — which now seems to me a terrifying and impossible thing to do.
What do I want? The same thing that most people want — leisure. Which is hard to get, in America. Living is so expensive that in order to have enough money to be leisurely you must work for years, your best years, to get it. Then I want a house with a garden, lots of books, and a good servant. I want to study languages, which seem to be my one real passion. I want to be surrounded, not too closely, by people who have the same interests as myself. All this can be had in America, but merciful heavens, what a job to get it! I have to meet a hundred people to find one that is congenial, and that one is always someone who has lived abroad as I have lived. It’s too bad, and it’s silly, but it is none the less the fact.
There are places in America where living is cheap, but if you go there you leave everything else behind. I can get all the things I want separately, after years of labor, but I can’t have them all together. To have one I must do without the others.
I suppose the solution is a compromise. I should settle down to work the rest of my life and, by squeezing every cent, manage to pay for a small apartment overlooking the river, in which all the work would be done by me. And, since all the lovely swift days must be spent in labor, I should become absorbed in my job. That is what many of the girls have done since they came back from the war. Quite a few have married, but all those who have did so before they had time to think about it. It is probably an excellent thing to do — if you can do it. I can’t. In the course of years I shall very likely acquire congenial friends. And I should forget about wanting to study, because there will be no time for it. Eventually I suppose I shall do all these things. You see, I am really quite sensible in my ideas. If only my emotions were equally so.
If only, at this moment, I could be absorbed in considering the best and quickest way to advance professionally, instead of sitting here dreaming over the river, remembering the hot Albanian trails and the nights of Ramazan, and hearing again the call to prayer, swinging out from the minarets at sunset!
The light is on over my patient’s door.