My childhood friend owns a home in the same Cape Cod neighborhood where my grandparents once lived. When I visit her, we walk over to my grandparent’s old house and stand at the end of the driveway. I silently long for my grandmother to walk out the breezeway door and invite me in for her homemade clam chowder and gather me up for one more walk along her beach over to the boathouse—our final destination where we always turned back for home. She’s been gone a very long time.
Once, my twins stood outside our old home in Virginia after our move to Illinois. The new owner recognized them and kindly came outside, saying, “You used to live here, didn’t you?” When they nodded, she invited them inside to take a look. They respectfully declined.We can never really go home. My twins knew the house wouldn’t be the same. They knew they wouldn’t find our Brittany spaniel sitting by the backdoor, watching the squirrels. Their room would be painted a different color with different furnishings and Godzilla their bearded dragon lizard would be gone. Their brothers wouldn’t be inside listening to music, playing guitar, or reading.
Our home during my teen years in Massachusetts.
But the irony of longing for these old days, these old homes, is that while I lived there, I longed for home somewhere else. As a young person, I assumed everyone else’s home was more peaceful than my own turbulent home. When my sons were growing up and I had found the family I always longed for, a part of me still longed for a more ordered home, some idyllic place where I would never feel the anxieties of this world and the push of needing something, anything.
I know now that my imagined home doesn’t exist anywhere on earth. I know this because of my skewed thought process when I look into lighted windows on my evening walks in our neighborhood, imagining the lives of the occupants, thinking surely they have fewer problems than me, better health, more robust financial portfolios. Surely they live in the perfect home, that place where I want to live. I imagine their lives with symphonic music playing quietly in the background, the lighting dim and warm, the bookshelves lined with great material. An easy chair sits by an ottoman laden with stacks of books and literary journals. Someone reads there with a cup of hot tea by their elbow while the smell of dinner wafts from the kitchen. In the cold weather, a fire burns warmly in the room. Voices are quiet or silent in this safe, safe place where strife ceases to exist.
This imagined home is a mere fantasy, a mirage in most cases. Many of the homes I pass likely have worries over bills, grief over the tension between spouses when one reclines in the basement watching sports for hours on end and one uses their tongue to slice and dice people. But here’s the puzzling part. Why create this phantom life in my mind when my home today fits the lovely description above, a comfortable refuge for us and for others who visit? My home may not be luxurious or fit for Home and Garden magazine, but it’s the kind of home that just might be the best you can find on earth, despite its small size and simple furnishings. Everyone feels welcome and safe here. We enjoy a steady stream of rich company and great conversation around the table, creating memorable moments.
Yet I continue to imagine home elsewhere as a place where strife truly ceases to exist, where some sort of internal longing quiets. Even as I write these words, I hear the absurdity. Could it be, as Jen Pollock Michel writes in Keeping Place, that we are “hardwired” for a true home? Will our souls only recognize this place when we find it finally satisfies all our longings?
I write about homes a lot, especially old New England homes with their sturdy construction and the way they’ve passed the test of time still standing through nor’easters and New England winters. I long for permanency provided by one of these colonials or farmhouses that when I walk through their doors, I stop searching for a new and different home. Despite all the houses where I’ve lived, I’ve never stopped longing or found my true home here. Yet I hear its call on those evening walks through my neighborhood, on those internet searches to find my old abode, on those visits to past residences, in my longings to move someplace warmer, less expensive, closer to the ocean. C.S. Lewis wisely describes this longing in Mere Christianity: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Some may attribute my longings to my own failing, my own lack of contentment and craving for what others have, and at some level, this may be true. But I know I mostly feel deep contentment in my life, which adds to the perplexing state of my longings.
In the meantime, instead of entertaining fantasies that the perfect home exists in another state or in my past, I will sit down by the fire, relish the good and safe conversation in the home I do have as it images a future home.
I’d love to recommend a more in-depth reflection on this topic. Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home addresses this innate longing uniquely and with far more detail than this brief post. I’m so enamored with her book that I want to buy multiple copies and pass it out to my friends. So many people long for something this world doesn’t offer. I’d love to hear if you are one of them. In my next post, I’ll be sharing a Q & A from Jen’s thoughts on this topic. But for now, enjoy this excerpt from her book: http://wp.me/P3GUgu-12H
In the foreword of Jen's book, Scott Saul writes, "Keeping Place is both memoir and rich biblical theology, and is, in all of its parts, an aroma of the Home for which we are made and for which we are destined. With wit, candor, a good bit of humor, and with transparent glimpses into her home, her history, her travels, her travails, her worship, her marriage, her table, her rest, and her longings—Jen offers an oasis for all of us who are homesick."
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