Going Home

“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?


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  1. Becky Blanton says

    What a gift to have a home to return to! My father is dead. My mother is in a nursing home, I’m estranged from all family members on both sides and haven’t seen, communicated with or ever really known them, been included or felt welcomed ever in my life. I’m a tumbleweed. Home is where I find it. I’ve often returned to the “sets” where so much drama and theatre took place: an old college, a former apartment, a bar, diner or restaurant where I met someone I once thought would be a life partner. They’re gone, or different, or have changed skins and attitude so much they’re barely recognizable. I wonder what it would be like to stay in touch with those who, “knew you when,” and who have cheered and cried and encouraged your steps and soothed the skinned knees and bruised egos along the path. It’s not to be. Count your blessings. For those of us who are dandelions — spewing seedlings of experience that are scattered to the four corners of the world, rather than salmon returning home to spawn and die with memories of their birth flickering in their eyes, we envy you. Enjoy the hugs, cry the tears, take the photographs, toast the memories and share the love. You are rich beyond measure.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Becky – I’ve been ruminating on your beautiful comment for several days (obviously). I think we all yearn to varying degrees for what we perceive we cannot have. I know I am blessed to have this kind of grounding. But, too, having lived “away from home” for most of my life, the fit is less than seamless upon return. I feel as though I’m the “different one” to a certain degree. Often I fantasize about returning to Michigan to live, but when I do, immediately I am reminded by events that reality would be much different than the one I have in my head. It is not to be.

      We love our time there, and the family has embraced Pete. It’s all very wonderful to return to and visit. But we don’t live there, either. And that’s okay, if poignant. This return was wonderful, as they all are. We’ll go back again at Christmas, and keep hoping for reciprocal visits wherever we may find ourselves next. Which will be home, but not, too. Thanks.

  2. Kirsten says

    Heartwarming post. I can’t contain my emotions while reading it, I just need to burst into tears. Maybe because I remembered my family who lives across the country. It’s been a while since I last visited them and I wouldn’t want for me to be visiting them just because something went wrong or due to illness. It makes me want to drive my car now and go back home. As the saying goes, ‘home is where your heart is.” 🙂
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kirsten – Welcome to PassingThru! You’re right, returning home after an extended absence for a sad reason can be regretful. When I was younger, I found I was cured of homesickness rather quickly upon whatever infrequent visit I made. 😀 But now that I’m older and somewhat more disassociated from the things that influenced my leaving to begin with, it’s a different feeling. I think the answer is to come and go when you feel like it, of course. Thanks for your comment.

  3. says

    Hi Betsy .. I always feel the pull of Cornwall and always will .. that’s where we went so many times on holidays and where my mother’s family came from … and where we seemed to tie up with them again – will once again for that final parting in a few months.

    The call of Africa – but the lure of friends .. the family isn’t so close – not having children and living away for so long .. my heart is in many places and can sing at times … perhaps now I’ll find some roots and settle.

    I can see your visit as it’s happening now – and that lure of the water .. it will be a wonderful visit – many happy times, tinged with those poignant sadnesses that come our way as we gently age ourselves …

    Enjoy yourselves and that feeling of being home … cheers Hilary

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Hilary – You’re right, the happiness has a tinge of sadness when we realize its temporary nature. I like what you said about your heart being in many places. Thanks.

  4. Roger says

    Niall Doherty is really right, we tend to grow and develop into a different individual after everything we have been through in life. This changes our perspective about our home.
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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Roger, Welcome to PassingThru! You’re right about the changed perspective. Thanks.