I first watched Houseboat late one night while holed up in the stuffy back guestroom of my dad’s house. I’d just had my wisdom teeth out, and dad was nursing me slowly back to a semblance of my old non-puffy self. I dozed in and out of glorious opiate dreams, binging in waking moments on Turner Classic Movies—the only cable channel I recall dad having back then. Time was a patchwork of rustling leaves, strips of day or moonlight peeking through dusty blinds, the creak of dad’s footsteps and sudden appearance of trays of rice pudding and pureed corn.
Because I watched Houseboat that week, that film will forever be associated in my mind with my dad’s stoic devotion, and my own mushy, bloodied gums. There’s a scene in which Cary Grant’s character, Tom Winters—recently returned from a stint in Europe to take charge of his three children after their mother’s sudden death—talks with his young son about loss. He tries to offer some comfort, but the grieving boy only retorts: “When you’re dead, you’re dead.”
Winters then invites him to look at a pitcher set on a railing of their houseboat. “See this pitcher? Try to think of this pitcher as being me, my body. Now, the pitcher of its own has no use at all—except as a container for something. In this case, as a container for the water, which you can think of as being my life force. Now try to lose that.”
“Okay, it’s easy,” says the boy, pouring some of the water into the river, some more thinly across the boat’s deck. “Well,” says Winters. “The only thing is, it isn’t lost. You see—it’s part of the river. It’s still in the universe. Come on, get rid of it.” This was the moment when both the boy and I had our epiphanies, when we realized the water couldn’t be gotten rid of—nothing could—no matter what you did to make it disappear.
“That’s right,” Winters says. “Probably not even life itself. It’s just that everything is constantly changing. So perhaps when our life force, our souls, leave our bodies, we go back into God’s universe, and the security of being part of all life again and of all nature.”
And this is what came to me as I reflected on this current issue of TLR, the one you hold in your hands, with its theme of Heaven. For what is heaven but an antithesis to the chafing discomfort of living? What, but everything life is not? Not fleeting, but permanent. Not disappointing, but fulfilling. Not marred, but whole. Not estranged, but part of all life again, and of nature. Perhaps in this we can take solace, even as babies age and lovers unmask themselves. Even as life seems little more than a single road endlessly travelled, and as fathers betray us by dying, like my dear stoic devoted dad did just over a year ago. Because when you come right down to it, you can’t lose anything, not really. You can only wonder where you might be when you find it again.