Tuesday, January 18, 2005

JH - Home, Sweet Home

Every January or so, or at least some time during the winter when the temperature catapults below zero and doesn’t have the strength to drag itself up again for days, I wonder, what am I doing here? Not so much in the metaphysical sense (although that, too) but in the sense of what am I, a diabetic with very poor circulation, doing living in a place that has winters so brutal that my fingers and toes could dull to the point that I may never get the feeling back into them. Why, in fact, have I lived in this kind of climate, first in Maine, now in Minnesota, for all of my life? Why, after high school, didn’t I follow one of my best friends who moved to Florida just for fun, for a change of scene? Why didn’t I take that trip to California after I started working and saved some money? Why couldn’t I have married a man who lived in Florida or California? Well, this year the answer would be because he probably would have been washed out to sea or buried under a ton of mud. But that’s a good question. Why don’t we live somewhere else with more temperate weather? Why don’t we go now? What’s keeping us here? If I could only answer that question, and the larger one: where is Home?

I excerpt here a posting on Terry Teachout’s excellent blog, About Last Night. (See the link to the right of our favorite blogs. I read his every day.) He wrote this just after Christmas when he was visiting his family in Missouri.

When I leave, it’ll be with the usual mixed feelings. I have a million things to do in New York, and I’ll be more than ready to get back to my desk. I love my work—probably more than I should—and I love my friends with all my heart. I even love New York, though it took me long enough to admit it to myself. (I didn’t really make up my mind about New York until after 9/11.) It is the place of my real life, and increasingly of my memories as well. I won’t be surprised if I spend the rest of my days there, whereas it isn’t likely that I’ll ever again spend more than a week or two at a time in Smalltown. Yet this town, and this house, are what I think of when I think of home.

As I write these words, I’m listening to a record by a friend of mine, a Brazilian singer who lives in New York and became an American citizen earlier this year. Right now she’s in São Paulo visiting her family, and I know her heart is as cloven as mine. I asked her once what language she dreamed in. “English, mostly,” she said, "but with an accent.” So, too, do I dream in and of New York—but with an accent.

When do we acquire the grace to feel at home where we are? Do we ever? Or can we do no better than to make a home for our own children, who will grow up and do the same for their children?

I wrote those words in 1991, a few years after I moved to New York. I still can’t answer any of the questions I asked back then, perhaps because I have no children for whom to make a home, and now wonder whether I ever will. More and more I find myself wondering, too, what home means, and where it is. Yet at least I know where it used to be. Not everyone knows half as much.

I love maps and I look at the atlas just for fun. Ok, I confess, I read encyclopedias when I was a kid, too. But I look at the maps of each of the states in the U.S. and ask myself, can I picture myself living here? Does anything about this place call to me? Does it say Home? I don’t wish to offend anyone in my home state, but I wanted to leave there back when I was a kid. Always fantasized living in some place more exciting, where I could have a Life. And now I don’t wish to offend Minnesotans, but this isn’t exactly the place I dreamed of then. So, back to the maps.

Florida? Humid in the summer. Hurricanes. Alligators in the back yard and bugs big enough to hitch to a cart. California? Too expensive. Hardly anyone can afford to own a home. Smog. Traffic. Mudslides, fires, Hollywood. Arizona? Too hot, too dry, snakes. Texas? I was there after a big hurricane in September one year and the air was so thick that you couldn’t breathe outside. And the Houston Symphony isn’t doing so well.

There’s a clue. Good music. Culture. Hmm. Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera, museums, climate’s not any worse than Minnesota. But boy, is Chicago BIG. I grew up in a state that had a total population equal that of just the greater Twin Cities. It makes a huge difference when you take all those people and pack them into one metro area. Took me a long time to get used to finding my way around here. I still get lost in the skyways.

Still, there has to be a place where I’d be comfortable, where I’d feel as though I’d finally made it “Home.” Or is there? Is there supposed to be? Here’s where the metaphysical part comes in.

The long and short of it is that this world is not our home. The city, the small town, a cabin in the middle of nowhere. It’s not where we’re called to be, not our final resting place. Our hearts should be on the hunt for Home, but we won’t find it in this world, or we shouldn’t be content to do so. There’s a place where our hearts and souls long to rest, to be reunited with the One who put us here. Our restlessness is an indication that there is a place for us that will satisfy all our needs, our wants, our longings. Nothing in this world can do that. We are given people and things in our life that show us a preview of what real satisfaction is about, but we should never be so taken up with the window dressing that we are distracted from looking inside to see the really exquisite goods.

I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter where I live. There are things that I enjoy, that I like to do that can be done in some places more easily than others. But with computers and fax machines, I can write from anywhere. I can work on my artwork and hobbies anywhere. I can listen to CDs, watch movies, read books anywhere. I can work on the most important thing of all anywhere: preparing myself for my real Home.

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