I confess I’ve never read the book You Can’t Go Home Again but the phrase itself has taken on a life of its own in our everyday language. How often we hear folks say it because they’ve tried to return to a particular place that they once did call home only to find that it just wasn’t what they remembered or hoped it would be.
I recently visited the town I lived in when I was in high school (40 years ago). As I drove through my old neighborhood I was astounded by the new housing developments, although why I would be astounded at this after 40 years is really inexplicable! But as I drove on, I found myself noticing and remembering “that was Johnny’s house, there’s Jeannie’s house and there’s where Frieda lived.” I turned the corner and recognized the house I had lived in (with some improvements over the years but basically the same) and yet it wasn’t home — it was merely a memory. I vaguely remember the childhood homes of some other friends and what I believe their neighborhoods looked like, but I couldn’t have found any of them if I tried. We drove past the high school and some old landmarks, and while I recognized a few of these and some of the street names, I wouldn’t be able to find my way around at all.
I’ve had the pleasure of reconnecting with a few of my old friends from those days through FB but my memory isn’t good so I’ll see the names and faces of others from my class but the names are from so long ago and the faces have changed over these 40 years. Some I recognize while others are only vaguely familiar, and while many of them remember each other, I suspect many would not remember me. They had gone through grade school together and grew up in town sharing the memories of childhood into their teen years and beyond. Many have stayed or moved just a short distance, maintaining strong ties to the community of their youth. I was just a temporary/passing acquaintance for most as a shy girl who had moved in and out in just 4 short years.
Our high school days were a different world. We didn’t discuss politics; we weren’t talking about multiculturalism or justice issues; there was an underpinning of racism, of classism and of sexism that weren’t talked about much and we certainly didn’t discuss sexuality. We were just kids — learning to drive, perhaps partying a bit too much, struggling with school work (or not), cheering on our sports teams, working part-time jobs and/or volunteering. It wasn’t idyllic like the nostalgia of the 1950s, we weren’t immune to suffering — we saw some of our friends become teenage mothers and we buried a few of our classmates, others suffered life-altering injuries, and, often unbeknownst to us, others were facing problems we couldn’t even imagine. As our lives changed we didn’t know who we would become or if we’d want to know the adults our friends would become.
Reconnecting after all these years we find that we may not have as much in common as we once thought. We’ve become Republicans, Democrats and Independents; pro-choice and pro-life; gun supporters and gun control supporters; gay, straight, bisexual and transgender; Christian, Muslim, Jew and atheist; the lists can go on and on. But social media has opened up the world to us in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed possible. We can reconnect despite our differences, and the distance social media affords allows us a space to express our opinions, disagree and still be “friends.”
While I was traveling I didn’t get much chance to meet up with folks I had known in high school except for the three days I was blessed to spend with one very dear friend. When we were girls in high school we likely didn’t know who we would become ourselves, much less who the other would become. And yet, on some level we did know who we were in our hearts, how that would inspire us to become who we are today and that our kindred spirits would recognize each other even if our eyes did not.
“You can’t go home again” — the words resounded in my head. There was little I recognized about the town where I had spent my youth, it wasn’t home, it was only a dim memory. It seems like a nice town — the population has doubled and the town has been built up beyond recognition — but it isn’t my town. As much as I loved it when I was there, I don’t think it ever really was.
And then there’s another saying we have about home — home is where the heart is. Like I said, it seems like a nice town and I did love it when I was there, but it isn’t where my heart is. If I had to define a place, a location where my heart is, it would have to be mid-coast Maine, a place I never really lived but is somehow home for me. It’s a beautiful, serene place along a rocky coast where I travel whenever I have the chance. It’s also a place where I’ve had some of my deepest spiritual epiphanies. But while this beautiful rocky coast calls to me, it is only a place, an amazingly beautiful one where I can be at one with myself and my surroundings, but nevertheless only a place. Perhaps home isn’t necessarily a place but rather a way of being.
I rather think that home is not so much where the heart is as our hearts are where our home is. Visiting with my friend was a homecoming. Not because I was returning to a place I once called home, but rather because I was coming home to someone/something in my heart. My heart is filled with special people — my wife (who will always be the heart of my heart, the love of my life and my home at all times in all ways); dear friends, near and far, old and new, present or not; family members of all generations, known and not known.
What a joy to know that I can go home again. To know that home is not a place where I have to go to touch those in my heart but rather that by touching those in my heart, I find myself at home. And when I am blessed to see those in my heart face to face, whether we were last together this morning or 40 years ago, our hearts won’t know the span of time — we will know each other and pick up where we left off as if it were only yesterday.