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Volume 2, Issue 1
Spring 2006:

Our House at Night

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Spring; 2(1):a6

Photographer: Barry Penchansky
[Larger Image]

I awake to the quiet stillness of a mid-winter night. New snow has fallen since I drifted off to sleep several hours ago; perhaps two inches coat the driveway, forming an icing on the week-old base, now two feet thick. I suppose the groundhog was right — here in New England it looks like six more weeks of winter.

I feel the soft thud of the furnace as it kicks on in the bowels of this house, now over a century old. Soon I hear the water surging through the copper piping that winds its way around the inner perimeter of the walls, radiating welcome heat to the rooms within.

I throw back the covers and pad gingerly down the stairs in darkness to make myself a cup of hot tea, and retire to the desk in my office. I reach for the wall switch and slide it up, bathing the tiny room in dim yellow light. The hot tea in the mug warms my fingers as thoughts form quietly in my mind.

In his treatise on the interpretation of dreams, Freud asserts that houses always represent the female being. In the romance languages, the word for house is feminine — la maison, la casa. The very structure conjures up images of birth and nurturing family.

Were the house a body, I suppose the furnace would serve as the heart, circulating its life-sustaining warmth throughout the structure.

Carrying the metaphor a bit further, the wiring would correspond to the network of peripheral nerves, powering the circuits of those devices we rely on to communicate with the outside world — radios, TV's, telephones, computers.

The plumbing drains the waste we humans produce daily, much like our bladder and bowels. Occasionally we experience a back-up from a plug in the line. Rarely must we call a plumber or Roto-Router, but it's comforting to know those services are available should the need arise.

The outer walls like skin protect us from the elements; the inner walls like fatty tissue insulate our rooms, maintaining a happy state of homeostasis. Windows, like eyes, allow us to look out at the world and experience those inner emotions produced by clean white snow, newly-fallen in the night.

In one of his letters, Mark Twain wrote of the special significance his house held for him and his family:

To us, our house was not unsentient matter — it had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals, and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the place of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome — and we could not enter it unmoved.

Mark Twain
Letters, Vol. II, p. 641

Sitting at my desk, watching the morning light emerge on new-fallen snow, feeling the warmth of the mug in my hands, I have a pretty good idea what he meant.

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