Thomas Wolfe famously said: “You can’t go home again.”
And yet, I have a recurring daydream where not only do I go home again, but I stay for a few months. Three months, to be exact.
I don’t know why, but three months seems like the perfect amount of time. I plucked it from the air, without much thought, when this particular reverie started.
Something just feels right about it. And in my daydream I set out on a quest to revisit several of my past homes.
In other words, I retrace my steps.
As you read this you might be wondering, “Why? What’s she looking for?” I’ve certainly asked myself those questions.
Is it about unfinished business? Getting closure? And what meaning could I possibly make from this?
I don’t have firm answers to these questions, but something has revealed itself to me about what would happen if I put my musings into action.
It would make a good story.
There’s a universality about it. I know this because when I talk about it in workshops, people perk up. They sit up straighter. Join the conversation. And they do so no matter if their memories of home are agreeable or unpleasant.
And if people are in a time of transition in their lives, then the idea of going home is particularly poignant.
So, if I was queen of the world I would give everyone who wanted to the chance to go back for at least one night to the place that most fully represents their original home.
I actually did this. Well, okay, I didn’t go for three months. I didn’t even get to spend the night.
But I did go back. I walked the streets of the neighborhood and was amazed at how close everything was: the park, the school, the corner grocery.
And I was struck by how small the house was, tiny by today’s standards. But that didn’t seem to matter back then, and somehow we managed to fit everyone in. As I recall, there were a lot of people around. And many comings and goings.
When I stood in front of the house, entranced, rooted in place, the people who live there got a little suspicious. But they relaxed when I told them who I was, and very graciously invited me inside.
As I crossed the threshold, I felt equal parts familiarity and strangeness.
In some ways I still knew that house, in other ways I didn’t. And walking through it, I found myself looking at the rooms from a misty, far-off place.
The living room where I practiced my first dance steps. The dining room where we all squeezed in on holidays.The kitchen where I did my homework. The bedroom where I plotted my escape.
And that’s exactly what I did when I was 17. I got out of there.
But years later, going back seemed important. And as I retraced my steps through that house that I grew up in, I realized that the past changes. There’s not one set version of it. It depends on what we bring to it and the perspective from which we view it.
Which puts me in mind of a quote from John Ed Pearce: Home is the place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.
I’m not sure that’s actually true, though.
Yet, I do think we all have some sort of homing instinct.
I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but maybe it does show up more when we’re in midlife. My hunch is it’s there to help us rejuvenate some essential part of ourselves that got interrupted by the rush and routine of adult life.
So how about you?