“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man.
“More than anything else, we long for home. Our deep ache for intimacy, security, and comfort is, in the end, a longing for home, nothing more. We are forever restlessly searching for someone or something to take us home.”
“Home—the Place from Which to Understand”, Ron Rolheiser, OMI
“Home is where one starts from.”
T. S. Eliot
The huge, orange October moon rises above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, streaming soft light through the window of our travel trailer onto the face of our sleeping son Erik. Gusts of gentle wind rustle pinyon pine branches in the dense forest surrounding us, five miles east of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This childlike face of our 31 years old disabled son Erik reflects peace and serenity. I sleep on a sofa bed next to him, because sometime during this night he will have a seizure, not as bad as many years ago, but strong enough to wake my protective presence to keep him from falling out of bed. My wife Janice and I surround Erik in a circle of love, in this mobile home in which we have traveled these past three weeks.
In the morning after breakfast, I walk with Erik on a forest trail. I have to hold on to his hand, as he can easily trip. Nevertheless, he does like to walk and the morning mist is perfumed with Pinyon Pine scent. We walk around a bend in the path and I can see our trailer in the distance.
“Erik, where is our home? Is home our house in Laguna Niguel, California or is our home that trailer over there?”
Without missing a beat, Erik points to the ground of the space between us, responding, “Home is right here.”
Home is right here, in this place where we stand, hand in hand, in the circle of love and care. Home is right here!
Home is right here.
On another day, I am driving alone on the 210 Freeway passing through Arcadia, California, toward my hometown of Pasadena. As the freeway off ramp passes over the site of our first family home, I drive three blocks north, toward the Sierra Madre Mountains, to the site of our second family home. There is a warm visceral feeling that hits me as I drive these familiar streets imbedded with deep memories. At Mayfair Drive, I turn left. Halfway down the street I pull over under a gnarled, bent linden tree to catch sight of our old family home. Here was home.
My father, now 96, sold the home years ago after the death of my mother and moved to a mobile home village in Huntington Beach. Other families now call this place home.
I have dreamed of this old home over the years since my father moved. At first, the vivid dreams brought me to the house. I would use my key, open the side door, and walk in, as I did in the past when I visited my dad. Suddenly, I see strange faces and I chastise myself for disturbing the family. I had this dream for many years.
Now that my dad is nearing the end of life, the dream has changed. In the last year, at least twice a month, I dream that I visit the old home. My dad still owns it, but doesn’t live here. In the dream, I visit the home with my dad and there are squatters living there, in the quasi-abandoned building. The plumbing does not work, paint peels from the walls. However, it is still home. Frequently, my deceased mother appears in the dream and we hug and talk as if she has been away somewhere. In each dream, I now experience more deterioration of the house, more damage; the roof is beginning to fall in. How strange the journeys our unconscious take us on. One friend suggested that I am going through some early grief about the end of life for my father. Nonetheless, when I go to the old house in my dream or in an actually drive by sighting, I feel I have arrived at home.
In all the twists and turns of my life up to the first years of marriage, travels in and out of state and in and out of the country, this house on Mayfair Drive was home. It was where I experienced unconditional love and I always felt that no matter how many mistakes I made in life, I had a welcome there.
I know that as you read this, you are remembering your own experiences of home and for many people those are not pleasant memories. One priest colleague with whom I worked for many years had to move every two years, because her father was an Army chaplain.
Where do you and I find home!
There is a deep longing within each of us for something, some place, some one where we will experience, love, joy, peace and hope. Some will believe they can create that place through success, accomplishment, and money. However, the Buddha warns us that all such “homes,” even if we are fortunate to arrive at that place at some point in our life, are illusionary and temporary. All that we hold dear will eventually pass from us. Home is in this present moment, this present breath. As Erik reminds me, home is right here.
There is another answer:
“Home is a place in the heart, not a bloodline, building, city, or ethnicity. Home is that deep, fragile place where we hold and guard what’s most precious to us. It’s that place where, in some dark way, we remember that once, before we came to awareness, we were caressed by hands far gentler than any we’ve met in this life and where we were once kissed by a truth and a beauty so perfect that they are now the unconscious standard by which we measure everything. Home is where things “ring true,” where what’s most precious to us is cherished, the place of tender conscience, of intimacy.”
Ron Rolheiser OMI, “Home— the Place From Which to Understand”
That foundational, innate memory of God’s loving embrace and kiss is our homing beacon.
For the past two years, Janice, our son Erik and I have been attending St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic Church two blocks from our home in Laguna Niguel. I have been an Episcopal priest for 44 years and not a Roman Catholic, but our family began to attend the Sunday evening youth mass. The pastor, Monsignor John Urell, is a good friend. That friendship and the proximity guided us to the church.
For 43 years, I have worked hard as a full time pastor, most of those years within the challenges of a Latino barrio congregation in Santa Ana. Three masses every Sunday, incredible multitasking. Now in retirement, in this contemplative period of my life, I have experienced a sense of spiritual homecoming at St. Timothy’s. How would I describe it? The words and music that draw the soul deeper into communion with God; Monsignor John’s contemplative homilies full of his own honest walk with the Lord and hope and encouragement. At the time of communion, I am often brought to tears with a powerful embrace of the Holy Spirit. I look around and the voice within me says, “I am home.” We only receive a blessing from the priest at communion, but still Janice and I agree, this is home. Not necessarily the building or the congregation, but in the words, music, aesthetics of liturgy, a doorway opens into a place in our heart. I am grateful for this grace and gift.
I walk in some desert space somewhere in New Mexico near sunset. There is a unique way the sun sets there: the sky above the horizon tinted yellow, crimson and finally purple. The air is still and dry, perfumed with sage, juniper and pine. There is stillness in nature before darkness covers the landscape. My skin prickles, not a cold wind, but some invisible touch, God’s enveloping embrace. I feel it and I am home.
Excellent Brad! I can relate! Blessings to you Janice & Erik! Thank you for being there for me! I miss Messiah parish & will probably make a pilgrimage there one day! We share the desert together!
Hi Brad: Thank you for the lovely reflection on different types of Home and where it is found. I live in another sort of desert. The desert of Northern Canada carries with it many of the sights of mountains, rivers, lakes and trees you speak of. I love Erik’s version of home. It is the Dene (Indian)way of the North too. They express this in their language – Fire is Ko. But it also means home. The idea is hat anywhere we light a fire on the land of Denedeh (homeland) to camp , eat and sleep and gather as a people to pray and share stories….that place is home. Home is where the elders are with all the other generations and where the knowledge of the past is brought into the present .Guided by the traditional skills and encouraged by a present circle of love ( Dene think very much in circle too around the fire), we can move with confidence into the future to find new home. Pax et Bonum Fr. Don Flumerfelt ofs
HI Brad- greetings to you Jan and Erik. Really enjoyed your meditation on home. As an Air Force brat, i was like your priest friend- move every 3 years or so- 10 schools in 12 grades. So unlike you, i have no ancestoral home or one that has particular meaning for me to visit, dream about or mourn the loss of. Your meditation is causing me to think about this- where is home for me? i dont really know- part of home for me lies in the home regions of my ancestors, the American South. But i don’t live there and while i enjoy nearly annual visits, I consciously have chosen not to live there, so that cant be fully home. i have and still do think of each of the places i have lived as an adult as home and have great affection and a sense of identity for and with them. Yet the very fact i can feel that way about a handful + of highly disparate places probably means none of them is fully home in a permanent sense. So i am left to stand with Erik. Home is here and now- this place, wherever that may be. Thank you for sharing Erik’s insight. It was enlightening to me. I hope you are continuing to enjoy your time in New Mexico. See you when you return – we can talk about the Catholic’s exclusion of the outsider (non-prepared RC) from the Lord’s Table. Not sure i could ever feel welcomed, nurtured or at home with that arrangement-blessing or no blessing!
Peace and love to you and your family.