They say that you can’t ever go home again, and of course, we return home again and again throughout our lives and know, at least in part, this is only half true. But I am not talking about that half.
Of course, returning is physically possible. Even if the familiar terrain of wherever “home” is, changes, we can still GPS our way back to the very doorstep of our childhood.
But Is it possible to ever find ourselves in the exact place we once were? The summer between 9th and 10th grade I flew back to my previous home to visit a friend I’d been forced to say goodbye to when my family relocated up north. I’d only been gone a year but when I came home, though she looked just as she had when I’d left, she was not the same. In truth, I hardly recognized her. Even her laugh seemed different. The week I spent visiting with her felt simultaneously familiar and foreign. I had come home, except I hadn’t. What I remembered no longer existed. Those joyful, familiar moments I’d captured, now wiggled free and vaporized whenever I’d try to hold them out to myself for reflection.
I returned to my family at the end of that week disappointed and grief-stricken. Almost nothing about that trip “home” felt right. I was a tourist.
It was not my home anymore. The hole where I had occupied space had closed. In my absence, new people and pastimes had filled the void I’d left behind.
I’ve been reading through The Art Of The Essay, as I am working on a longer work of my own, and only a few pages in, I stopped on this passage and sat with it for a good while,
” See, ‘memory has its own story to tell, ‘ as Tobias Wolff has written. It produces a truth that’s clearer and dearer to us than facts or recordkeeping could ever achieve. Memory holds on to part of the places and people and events, and each time we dust off a memory and offer it to others, it becomes more a part of who we are. We all know, writer and reader alike, that memory has its limits. We know this even from the stories shared during a family reunion or a holiday gathering.”
Charity Singleton Craig, The Art Of The Essay
Our own memories prevent us from ever really returning home again. We come back to the familiar only to discover that the wallpaper we remembered to be brown with stripes, is in fact cream with a plaid pattern. How did we reduce the plaid boxes in half, seeing only the vertical lines running down the length of the wall? We remember the garage having one window, but standing in front of it now, we see two–we’d forgotten about the always overgrown bush that obscured the other window for all of those years, or that stash of tools that blocked the window it from the inside.
Our memories are untrustworthy, which isn’t to say that we are all liars, but only that our memories are not concrete. They are more than snapshots captured and tucked away in to the folds of the biological photo albums of our brains. Our memories are susceptible to outside influence. They can be altered by so many things, including our ever-shifting moods.
Returning home, is always by another way. Experiences, circumstances and personal growth leave their own marks on us. Even though we may physically return, our hearts and minds are not exactly the same as they were when we left. We fill in the gaps with the stories we tell ourselves. We blanket over hard memories with make-believe versions that we wish were true. But the Truth is not as fluid as the world wants us to believe. The stories we tell ourselves matter.
Everyday we are telling ourselves a story about who we are, who God is, and what it looks like at any given moment to live this current version of our story. How we remember our history–not only our immediate history–but our ancestral history, as God’s people, inevitably shapes the stories we tell ourselves and others. We have a decidedly short memory in light of eternity. Our penchant for forgetting the unwavering goodness of God leaves us wrestling with Him when the invitation at hand is to let go and receive.
All summer long I’ve tossed around the idea of returning to this blogging space to write more regularly. I don’t have any more time in my schedule than I have in the last year, but the longing persists, and the words keep coming to the tip of my tongue. I realized today, when I logged on to write this, that it’s been a year and change since I last published anything in this space. I’ve missed the rhythm of it.
I’m coming back to it, though I know that as much as I miss what it once was, I cannot come home again–at least, not in the same way that I once occupied this space.
I return, but by another way.
I return, but I am not the same.
I’m looking forward to making new memories and sharing new stories.