One day, maybe, science will measure just what exactly happens to the deepest part of our beings when we go home — what happens not just to our emotions, but what happens physiologically in our organs, in our cells, in our very molecular makeup when we go to the place where we belong.
I don’t mean ‘home’ in the sense of where we return to after we’ve just bought some milk and bread from the corner store. Nor do I mean ‘what happens to us’ in the sense that we’re happy to be inside from the blowing rain.
I mean sometimes we’ve been away from home for a long time, so long that when we do return we’re like a child with wide eyes and spirit of wonder, looking at the most ordinary of things – a house, a tree, a railway track, a mechanic’s garage — as if it all were all sitting on nothing less than streets of gold and we have somehow become the richest inhabitants on the face of the earth just to see it and touch it. We feel it in the very depths of our souls.
Today, for the first time in 8 months I went home, that is home to the town that I grew up in.
It was one of those unplanned things. I woke up and had a day of activity lined up, not the least of which was to begin the job of unpacking and preparing our Canadian house for my wife and children who will soon arrive from their brief stay at the in-laws: this, all after our recent return from our African home. Instead, I found myself eating a breakfast sandwich on the road while taking the 45 minute drive in another direction to … home.
There I saw my father who, more than 40 years later, still lives in the house that I grew up in, a 150-year-old estate home on a quiet corner lot in Niagara, a place that used to operate as a private nursing home, a place that was another sort of home for many other people when he, and his children, were younger.
There is much to write about my father. Almost as much as there is to write about home. For now, suffice to say that he is 82-years young and wishing that the words weren’t so small. When he’s not working — my father is still active as a therapeutic massage therapist of more than 50 years – he’s working on the house or, as was the case this morning, a book.
It was historical fiction, in German, about the medieval crusades, that he was reading. If only the words were printed bigger, he said to me. Then he handed me another book, a large hardcover with type just slightly larger, and photos of old Prussian castles from the part of the world where he had grown up, the Old World where he, in his Mennonite community, lived closer to the land and closer to other people. He spoke about it all, and he would have continued much longer if he could have.
This was my father’s way, I realized, of returning to his own home. And I felt sorry for him. Not because he is getting old – many of us will face the inconveniences of old age sooner or later. But because his childhood home is so far away. It might as well be on the moon, as on the other side of the ocean. And now — he never did return to it — the closest that he can get to that home is through the flat pages of a book.
Someday, though, my father will have another home. It will be a striking place in fields of gold, or maybe on a street with no name, far grander than any any castle around here. And going there will be far more thrilling than driving to one’s hometown after a lengthy absence. And someday, I hope, I’ll drop by and see him over there too.