I know they say you can't go home again . . . I thought if I could touch this place or feel it . . . this broken-ness inside me might start healing . . . Miranda Lambert from the House that Built Me
The sweetest dream that I've ever held in my heart is to have a home. Not just as a place to live . . . but as an anchor for my soul. It would come complete with memories, history, comforting familiarity . . . even long after the people were gone . . . and I would be the benevolent gatekeeper for new people. No matter how far away I went, it would be there waiting for me -- and everyone I loved -- with flaming sunsets and narrowed roads leading to it . . . with secure walls and painted doors to close behind us when the weight of the world became too heavy.
Isn't this the real American dream . . . the human dream . . . behind the square footage and the status address? Beyond the gated communities and the homeowner's associations? We all want a safe place to belong forever . . . It's such a completely normal thing, I think.
But maybe I want it just a little bit more than the average person because it's been so particularly elusive for me . . .
There's a scene in the iconic movie Forrest Gump that is a painful reminder that not all of us are born into that God breathed place of insulated love and protection. Forrest and his childhood friend are strolling through the congenial, southern countryside adjoining his own regal antebellum home when they come upon a sorry shack on the other side of an old cornfield. She seems to catch her breath for a moment before regaining her composure, and then in a fit of rage-filled resolve, she begins to hurl rocks at the house where she grew up until she falls to the ground emotionally and physically expended, at which point Forrest delivers the classic line, "I guess sometimes there just aren't enough rocks."
The truth is that some of us are haunted by houses rather than comforted . . . and the desire for a safe place becomes the most important thing . . . For me, that desire . . . that dream bordering on a obsession . . . has been deferred by equally normal circumstances over the years . . . military life for ten years where houses were provided . . . followed by a church parsonage of sorts . . . and then some plain old poor financial decisions have delayed my dream of owning my own home . . . for over thirty years.
I've feel like I've been throwing rocks for a lifetime. To have my own home was a dream borne in childhood . . . one of hope and better things.
I've imagined it a thousand times . . . a house built over the slant of a hill . . . and tall windows with a view of a winter expanse (there is nothing like winter to call me home). There is soup on the stove and something baking in the oven. And as I move back and forth between the kitchen and my office to write, I can see my children playing with my grandchildren . . . hear their laughter as they sled down that hill. There is a blazing fire in a family room behind me to warm them when they come inside. It's not a huge house . . . but there's enough room to grow . . . and a safe place for everyone.
In my profound disappointment in the waiting, the sweetness of my dream has turned somewhat toxic and misguided, and compounded by my desire to have provided something different for my children and my grandchildren . . . a "festering sore of resentment' for anyone or anything that gets in the way of this dream deferred (Hughes, 1951). The truth, I know, is that kind of generational inheritance of a home is a rare thing, even for Americans anymore . . . childhood homes are sold . . . grown children are moving farther away and are increasingly choosing something different . . . sometimes people can't . . . or simply don't go home again . . . and must take the best parts of where they have been with them. In all this, there is a simple truth . . .
It's not about the walls and the roof or where we live that makes us who we are . . . it's about what we make the place that we live . . . and more importantly, it's about the people . . . about the safe relationships we build . . . about the love and the memories we make along the way no matter where we lay our heads . . .
It's been a tumultuously painful and alternately joyful year for me . . . the best kind for growing.
My year began in a house on a mountain with the family I built. My oldest daughter, very pregnant with her third child in Denver, couldn't travel for the holidays, so my brother rented a rambling lodge in the Colorado Rockies, and we brought Christmas there from Michigan . . . from Chicago . . . and all of that safe love of family -- my husband and our two daughters, their husbands, my grandchildren, my brother . . . came together under one roof to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of the world . . . the ultimate joy. I was home . . . high on that mountain all the way across the country.
That same brother lives in a condo in a trendy Chicago neighborhood and he travels a lot for work . . . but several times over the course of the year, he and his partner have made time for me. Every other month or so I make the trip into the city and they celebrate my very presence. They invite all their friends through formal invitation: Jayson's sister is in town . . . We cook in the kitchen and linger over the island and wine into the midnight hours, go to breakfast the next morning, run the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan. Recently, they were out of town when I was attending a writing conference downtown, but they gave me a key, and I felt safe in their guestroom . . . but not really like a guest at all.
One of my dearest friends is between homes, having a condo renovated in west Michigan and alternately staying in a camper on a lake in the little farming community where she grew up. Several times over this summer, she has honored me with an invitation into the rustic beauty of her charming little -- and alternately expansive -- world. We've paddle boarded a misty lake, run back country roads, traversed ancient cemeteries, rowed a boat at twilight, and watched the stars falling down around us by the light of a fire. I can close my eyes right now and be there. It feels like home under that open dome of her sky, and in the very shadow of that little camper that sits between an overgrown garden and sun-spattered water.
Most recently, my daughter asked me to come to Colorado again . . . this time to help settle her -- my -- growing family into a new house. In their lovely new tri-level home, they gave me a slant-ceilinged suite at the top of the stairs. A desk near a window looked out over the neighborhood into the mountains. As I wrote at that desk and gazed over the shadowy peaks, I listened to the sounds of the house . . . the children playing and the baby waking from her nap . . . the dog barking in the backyard and the clicking of my keyboard . . . My daughter between in the kitchen . . . We were a family and I was home.
There are a half dozen more people . . . friends I can think of who would not and do not hesitate to welcome me into their homes. I have open invitations, codes to garages, and access to pools, guest rooms, and breakfast tables. These relationships -- not so much the spaces -- have built us over the years. Even so, I'm looking forward to sharing my own space . . . giving back. Until then, I am learning to be at home in the world . . . when I am running through the woods . . . along a lake . . . the trees are mine . . . the water is mine . . . God put the clouds, the setting sun, and the rising moon out there just for me.
When I think of my brother and me in that little house that broke us when we were children . . . We couldn't save ourselves, or each other then . . . but we're doing it now . . . Life doesn't begin and end with fulfilled or crushed dreams . . . it's the journey in getting there . . . or maybe the letting go . . . that will either break us or build us . . . or both.
This past year has taught me that until I get to where I'm going . . . wherever I go . . . wherever I am, I am home.