“This is about as good a Monday as you could get,” says Pete, and he’s right. Cloudless sky, swift traffic going our way, and two eagles soaring overhead to see us off. We’re headed to Michigan, which means I’m going home. I remember that an eagle appearance portends clarity of mind, and then on cue, my own begins to wander.
Going home: if it’s what you know and who you love, home could feasibly be anywhere. But home to me will always be where I was raised and where lots of my mother’s side of the family still reside. The other places I’ve lived and do live are home, too, but different. The first glimpse of big water view – Lake Michigan – and I say to myself, “There it is, I’m home” even though there are still hundreds of miles to go.
This time it’s a chance to see the extended family coming from far away, to celebrate each other against the backdrop of recent loss. The physical Michigan in my memory collides with a shrunken, updated version. How much larger are these places as I remember them! They appear in my mind from the perspective of a child. The reality of smaller size is disconcerting.
On my mother’s side of the family, we’re crybabies. If we haven’t seen each other in forever, then we cry and hold each other, as if to expel the intervening years and give thanks for the chance to re-connect. It’s a hot summer afternoon, but a breeze is blowing off the lake as we greet and re-group, kibbitz and eat, sit and gaze out at the lake. “Now we’re older than our parents were during those times.” It’s true. The young people clambering into the speed boat should be us, but they’re our children. And our parents’ generation continues to dwindle. Going home will put all that right in front of you.
One of the uncles is in ill health and couldn’t travel, didn’t want to really. “He’s in retreat,” says one of his daughters. “He’s preparing. He’s ready and he wants to go home.” For me, and hearing this I suspect for him as well, Michigan is not one of the thin places where the line between heaven and earth has blurred. Instead, it’s clearly delineated – with two distinct parallel worlds, the physical here and the spiritual there. Instead of here, he’d like to be there. It sounds as though it will be soon.
For me, going home to Michigan at this stage in life feels like returning from a long trip. Niall Doherty writes, “They say that when you return home after an epic journey, nothing seems the same. But everything back home usually is the same. The only thing different is you. . . And the more intense and prolonged your journey, the greater the change.”
How could there not be a personal transformation after so many years? Rachel Denning believes any journey can open your mind, heart and soul due to the very nature of the unfamiliar and unknown. Without such a transformative journey, we might be left with what the New York Times calls “such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life,” then we “devalue qualities that are critically important.” Going home can lead to looking at the everyday with an eye for the extraordinary, and perhaps come away with a greater appreciation for what Rod Dreher calls “the great and overlooked value in an ordinary life well lived.”
And so, this lovely span of days in Michigan, with its endings and beginnings, young ones and elders, laughter and tears, is a reminder of all that. Going home to what you know and being with the ones you love, defining and remembering what is critically important, will send you off into the world again in the very best way.
How does an extended absence impact your perspective of home?