Going Home: Or Back to the Past

Home. A comfort, a place where you are known and still loved for your own self, a place of your past, but a place where you are ultimately headed. And a place I just revisited. This past week, I traveled back to my home town of Bremen in northern Indiana – a small town of maybe 3,500 souls or so – the place where I grew up from fourth grade through high school, the place where there were no real class differences growing up because there were so few of us and we were all in it together, the place where I was cheerleader for our freshman basketball team, the place which now is strictly Trump country. But a bit more about that later.

I go back home now once a year, or more often if I can, to see my one brother Joe and his wife, Marty, and also spend time with my only niece, Brenda. While there we always try to eat out at a nearby lake at one of my favorite places called The Frog – a place, as the name suggests, with real character! Anyway, I flew from Richmond to Cincinnati (by way of Atlanta ‘cause you can’t get there from here!), saw my dear friend Karen, and then rented a car to drive around Indianapolis, and up state Route 31 to Plymouth, Indiana, where I usually stay – a short eight miles or so from my old stomping ground in Bremen.

The first photo at the lead of this blog shows the place where I stay – Swan Lake Resort. You wouldn’t expect such an elegant place in the middle of corn fields, but that’s Indiana for you. Actually, Swan Lake is a conference center as well as a resort hotel. Also on the property is the United States Golf Academy. Founded in 1971, the Academy – next to a really beautiful championship 18-hole golf course – is known nationally as a center for training golf enthusiasts. Now you may immediately be asking yourself whether I play golf. And I have to say that I’m the only one in residence when I stay there who hasn’t touched a golf club since I was about 14 years old. (My mother – who was a pretty devoted golf player herself – tried her best to get me interested in the game by paying for two years of golf lessons for me, but it never took!) Anyway, I stay at Swan Lake because it’s convenient, on lovely grounds, and near places that I like to visit.

As I said before, this is Trump country. And one of the things that my brother and I have learned over the years is that the whole topic of politics – for the sake of family harmony – is strictly off-limits. He, like our parents before us, is a staunch conservative. I, on the other hand, somehow went astray, veered off the mark, and well … let’s just say that the fact that I voted for Obama two times marks me as … well … different, let’s just say. So we had a fantastic visit, and just steered clear of the topic.

On the other hand, I had lunch with my oldest childhood friend, Kay – friends since fourth grade – the kind of friend you keep always, who knew you when. We try to have lunch together when I go home, and this time was no exception. She came out to Swan Lake and we had a nearly two-hour lunch in the grill just off the golf course. And as always, we just picked up in our conversation where we left off last year.

Now Kay and her husband Dave (whom I’ve also known since fourth grade) made a life together after high school right there in Plymouth. Dave worked for UPS until he retired a few years back, and Kay owned a beauty shop (as they are known in that neck of the woods) in downtown Plymouth. Kay’s retired now too, but one of the avocations that she has faithfully and creatively pursued over the years is painting – as in visual art. The second photo below displays a fantastically lovely watercolor that she created just for me. She gave it to me as we settled at our lunch table and, as she said, it was “painted with love.” I not only was touched by her thoughtfulness, but also by the lovely vision of flowers that was her creation. Kay said she hasn’t wanted to sell any of her work because she loves them like children and couldn’t bear to part with them. But for me, she made an exception.
We did get on the topic of politics, and not surprisingly, given that I was in Trump land, she and Dave both were committed to his candidacy. One of his main virtues for her was that he “says it like it is” and doesn’t take anything off of anyone! The conversation was really short and didn’t go anywhere, but it did allow me to experience first-hand a whole different world view than the one I and my Richmond friends inhabit. And the good thing about old friends – as well as family – is that you just love each other anyway!

Well, they say there’s no place like home. They also say home is where they have to take you in when you have no place else to go. I guess there are a lot of things “they” say about home. But for me my treks back are like going back to the past. I had a very happy childhood, but still in a way it’s jarring to go back and immerse yourself again in your childhood – flooded with memories and meaning, even if most if not all of them are happy ones.

Home of course is also used as a metaphor for where you belong, where your heart is, in some very larger sense also where you are headed, where you find comfort, that place that beckons you to wholeness and peace. Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite spiritual writers, published a collection of very moving essays under the title The Longing for Home – last photo below. And in that title essay, he has the following to say:

The word home summons up a place … a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment …

… In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit … I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it … I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.
So home. A comfort, a place where you are known and still loved for your own self, a place of your past, but a place – in Buechner’s sense – where you are ultimately headed. And in the meantime, a place that you search out and feel that you have found once in a while in the company of others.