Thomas Wolfe said it: You can’t go home again. My immediate answer is “Oh, yes I can.” But what is home? Maybe he was right. Home is not the town where I went to high school—a town so small they’ve got “Welcome” and “Hurry Back” on the same sign! (Well, it’s not quite that small.) My home isn’t even the house where I grew up; that place was torn down years ago.
Does that mean I don’t have a home to go back to? Help me think this through. Would you say that home is more a state of mind? Somehow, even that doesn’t capture it. Perhaps it’s what we think of when someone asks if we’re going back home.
Ah, yes, and what do we think of when we say we’re going home?
I think of people who flavored my life at that place on the planet when I was a child, who noticed whether I was present—or absent. Who commented on my achievements and plans, who saved a place for me or listened to my not very interesting accounts of turmoil or triumph. Home was populated by those who believed in me when I was an awkward teen, fighting acne and self-doubt. Home is where I felt anchored. Though I didn’t always feel accepted in some circles, I felt I belonged, anyway. I spoke the vernacular; I knew the names, the kinships and relationships, the places and the history. I was part of that history.
It all gave me a sense of ownership. After having been gone for awhile, perhaps back from college, home on leave from the Army, or even after I moved far away from Oklahoma, I returned because it was home. It always seemed to be late in the evening or night. Behind coverlets of trees, the houses—in turn dignified, plain, friendly, fair or faltering—huddled along sleepy streets I knew by heart. Windows stared like blind men back at me. I knew the families in most of the houses. Would they care that an adventuring son had returned home? I’d imagined a triumphant return and felt a twinge of regret that no one was out on the streets at midnight to greet me. How ridiculous.
But it was home, where special people expected my arrival. Where they really do leave the light on for you. The “they” was always Mom, until she was no more. Yet, in the dozen years since she’s gone, that windswept town on the Oklahoma prairie and surrounding communities are all considered home. My brothers are still there, with their families. I certainly connect with them but they would probably say we all lost a good bit of home when Mom died.
I wonder what thoughts went through Jesus’ mind when he returned to his home town. Joseph, his earthly father, was long since dead, just like mine. But the townspeople of Nazareth remembered Jesus. They called him “this man,” a pejorative term. Yes, we know him, all there is to know about him, anyway. We know the whole lot—his brothers, sisters, Mary. Jesus, he’s just “the carpenter.” Very clear he’s not well trained. How does he presume to think he can come back here and teach in our synagogue?
What’s it like when you try to go back home? Do you have some bad history back there? Do you need help to clean it up, or is the problem in the eyes of the folks you left behind? Who do you first look up when you go back home?