Coming Home: The Ritual of Return

“There’s no place like home.”

Dorothy,The Wizard of Oz.


If you’ve been here before, you’ve no doubt noticed I’ve been swimming in the waters of “home” lately.

For me, it’s like a lake that’s both warm and bracing, placid and choppy. And for the most part, I enjoy that duality.

In fact, over the years my inner conversations about this topic have varied dramatically.

One day it’s a casual chat; the next it’s like being back in high school French class, listening to Madame Marie’s words with every fiber of my being, yet still only understanding half of what she was saying.

If you haven’t been here before, let me bring you up-to-date: first I pondered the nature of home; next I wondered what it means to actually revisit home.

And from the comments came a tumble of wisdom that greatly enlarges the traditional notion of home. So I made meaning of it by creating a simple word sketch…

photo (8)

As I was writing and coloring the words I couldn’t help but notice their depth and sensitivity.

And in that moment I recognized all the life experiences they represented.

In fact, I had such a sense of the lived experiences of others, both those who commented and those who didn’t, that it momentarily took my breath away.

It was quite remarkable. So much so that it reminded me of something I’d kind of forgotten…

That before we ever get to a complete appreciation of what home means, or what coming home to ourselves means, we have to, in fact, leave home.

And leave home we do, throughout our lives.

Now, I don’t just mean those times when we box up our stuff, pack up the car and hit the road to a new dwelling. No, I mean all those times we leave a role or stage of life, in order to transition to a new one.

Youth to adult. Student to worker. Single to couple. Renter to homeowner. Child-free to parenting. Job to jobless.

First half of life to second half of life. Married to divorced. Parenting to empty nest. Employee to business owner.

Midlife to old age. Working to retirement. Living to dying. 

Happy to sad. Sad to happy. Lost to found. Floundering to Grounded. Seeking to finding. Lonely to belonging.

On and on and on it goes.

A continuous cycle of transitions with frequent stops along the way. Not all the same ones for each of us, mind you, but plenty to last a lifetime.

So actually, we leave home a lot. At least in the metaphorical sense.

No wonder we’re surrounded by so many hero’s journey stories, in books and movies, about leaving home, going on an adventure and returning with newfound riches or insights.

As a kid, one of my favorite stories about leaving home and returning was the Wizard of Oz.

The teacher read it to us when I was maybe in third grade. And of course, there was the annual viewing back in the day, when it was on television each year.

No matter how many times I’d seen it, I still plopped myself on the floor in front of the TV with high anticipation.

No matter how many times I’d seen it, I still shuddered when the witch had Dorothy in her clutches, and cheered when Dorothy destroyed her.

No matter how many times I’d seen it, I still cried with abandon when Dorothy said good-bye to her companions.

No matter how many times I’d seen it, I still was amazed and inspired at the end of the movie, when Dorothy claimed her deepest knowing: that she had the power to return home all along, and the ruby slippers would take her there.

As Dorothy clicks her heels three times, she completes the ritual of return.

Turns out she had to leave home to discover what she knew all along. And those ruby slippers represent all that she brings back with her: courage, heart and wisdom.

I recently came upon a lovely quote by Rabbi Rachmiel Tobesman that eloquently describes the quest we all undertake, with each life transition and deep passage, towards wholeness:

“When we first begin to awaken,we realize just how far from home, or our true selves, we really are…

But eventually, like Dorothy and her companions, we come to realize that the strength we seek outside ourselves already exists within us.

We only need to turn inward to discover our courage, heart and wisdom. By focusing…on our deep longing to return…we find our way home.”

We are the home we’re looking for. You are the home you’re looking for. The beginning and the end.

The place where we start and the place we return to.

We complete the cycle, a cycle we enter many times during our lives.

And just as Dorothy learned, each time we conclude the metaphorical ritual of return we bring back riches, our own version of the ruby slippers.

What about your ruby slippers?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. If I added all of my life transitions up with yours, and his, and hers, and all of those who read this, well, we’d have a lot of ruby slippers clicking away. A bounty of courage, wisdom, and heart flying around.

But what is that, really? Just words, it seems to me. So what if we expressed our riches a different way? What if we did it with symbol, image or metaphor?

Mine would be the redwood tree, that ancient giant that lives through storms and fires, and knows how to heal itself. Its roots are somewhat shallow, so it can better change with the times.

Yes, if I was stranded in Oz, I’d hug this tree and whisper, “Take me home.”

How about you?

20 thoughts on “Coming Home: The Ritual of Return

  1. As I read your blog I was reminded of a story about one’s journey to discover their own inner treasures and gifts…

    Life is a journey and new adventures await many as they travel about to their homes, school and work. Many discover treasures that they did not know they have…….

    There once was a poor man. He worked everyday from sun up to sun down, but no matter how hard he worked, he could not earn enough to support his family. One night he dreamed that there was a great treasure under a bridge in a faraway village. In the morning he told his wife of his dream and she said that maybe this was a good sign and that he should travel to the faraway village.

    He traveled to the faraway village and stood near the bridge, and watched as people walked across the bridge. Towards evening the traffic on the bridge had slowed to nothing. So the poor man decided to go and get the treasure.

    As he stepped onto the bridge he saw an officer coming from the opposite side. The poor man decided that no matter what he would tell the truth. The officer passed by and asked,

    “I see that you are a stranger here, What is your business?”

    The man decided that it would be best to tell the whole story and ask for help, hoping that [the officer] would share the treasure with him. He told the officer the entire story.

    The officer replied,

    “A poor person is concerned only with dreams! I also had a dream. In my dream I saw an old house with a red door and the window on the right was cracked. Inside the house was a woman and children crying because they had no food. Now in this house is an old iron stove and behind the stove there is a hole and in the hole there is a treasure. On top of the stove there is a beaten copper kettle.”

    In relating his dream, the officer accurately described the poor man’s house. He rushed home, and tried to push the iron stove, but he couldfn’t. He called his wife and they both pushed and pushed and were only able to push the stove a little. The children joined and soon the stove was pushed away from the wall and sure enough there was a hole in the wall and it was filled with golden coins.

    The poor man noted, “Now I know that I had the treasure all along. But in order to find it, I had to travel to the faraway village.”

    The same is true in serving the Holy One, Blessed be He. Each person has the treasure, but in order to find it, he must travel to a teacher or guide.

    May all your stories end with shalom (peace)

    • Thank you, Rabbi, for making a visit and sharing this story that so perfectly captures what I wrote about here. I really appreciate how you have enlarged the conversation for all of us, and reminded us of the need for teachers and guides. Peace to you as well!

  2. Hi Patty! What a thought filled journey you are on! Thanks so much for making me think about this. A symbol for me would be a heart. That is where my home is. The physical homes have been too numerous, some are no longer even in existence except for my memory of them. Like a turtle, oh another symbol, I take my home with me. Actually I like the turtle image a lot – a friend once gave me a small one made of shells, it’s even wearing glasses, and she said it reminded her of me. She said a turtle never gets anywhere if it doesn’t stick its neck out – I’ve been known to do that on more than one occasion! haha! I also tend to retreat into my home, much like a turtle, for peace and solitude – so my final answer? A turtle.

    • Oh, that’s a great symbol for you, SuZen. Like the turtle you carry your home and your wisdom with you at all times. And there certainly is a lot courage that goes with sticking your neck out, right? I also like that a turtle doesn’t have to race ahead, as we’re so often taught to in life. Thank you for bringing your insights and comments here!

  3. Oh Patty, I love these stories. As long as I have a garden and am able to see green around me I am home.
    Nature is home to me, living in nature resprents the riches of life to me. I can remember as a child standing on our balcony and looking down onto other people’s garden and so wanting to have one of my own.
    Plants inside and trees outside represents my riches and I am so blessed to be living in a beautiful garden right now. However the road to this garden has been interesting and to fully enjoy its beauty I had to let go with each transition of earthly goods and ego trappings, that were dulling my senses.
    I feel like a gum tree, who grows tall and after losing its bark has a beautiful trunk.

    • What a beautiful metaphor for your life, Wilma. In your description of the gum tree, I can hear so vividly how it mirrors your own life experiences and transitions, your path to inner riches. And isn’t that true about letting go? I love how you say that – “earthly goods and ego trappings that were dulling my senses.” Thanks for being here.

  4. Patty, I’m really loving this series on home. It’s a subject I’ve had conflicted feelings about at every transition of leaving home and coming home, literally and figuratively. Your posts really help me make sense of these feelings I have.

    Right now, for me I would say my symbol is two hands holding each other. For a long time, I had this false sense of independence and over the past few years, I’ve had an eye-opening experience about interdependence which I find empowering. It’s not so much the fear of standing alone, which can be a scary thought, but it’s more about the overwhelming power of our one-ness, its potential and seeing it at work among women in developing countries. It’s possible that I’m romanticizing it as much as I romanticized the idea of independence, but right now, this is where I am.

    • Hi Belinda – I’m so glad to hear that. I think many of us feel confused by the depth of transition. In fact, the older we get the more confusing it can become, because the transition itself is deeper and calling us towards wholeness. So it makes a lot of sense that your symbol would be two hands. The first half of life is often about independence; the second half more about interdependence. And there’s a lot to be said for standing together as one. Thank you!

  5. Hello Patty,

    How strange it was for me to read this post. In the past few days I have been thinking about an article I read in the New Yorker a few years ago on Red Wood Trees. As I have been formulating my story about the comfort of trees for my next post I stumbled upon your post. Life is strange that way!

    What got me thinking about this New Yorker article was my frustration with my boys that they rarely go exploring in our beautiful country surroundings.

    When I was growing up my sisters and I spent our free waking hours playing in the trees around our house. It is when I am in the trees that I feel most at home.

    I often wonder what it will be that brings my boys back mentally to their home – since we don’t have trees in our yard, yet, I’m thinking it will be the mountains.

    • Hi Jillian – I love that serendipity! I too find great comfort in trees, and in fact have eight redwood trees planted in my backyard. It sounds like you’ve had this connection to trees for a very long time, and it make sense that you would want your boys to experience that same sense of home that you do. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Patty — I have loved this series and the way you’ve taken us on a journey with your words.

    Today, I’m thinking that home is the place where I feel most fulfilled. The things that get me to that place are writing, photography and the many kindred spirits I’ve met in my journey through the blogosphere:~)

    • Hi Sara – Sounds like your symbols of writing, photography, and kindred spirits embody vast riches of creativity and connection. Thanks for being here and sharing this journey!

  7. Patty, I love this series. It conjurs such great memories for me. I am slow to post a comment because I was pondering the symbol of my riches. I had so many wonderful images pop into my head as I pondered. My current symbol is a simple path. It’s a nice little path covered in leaves in some areas, bare dirt in others. This path weaves through a small forest which spreads a canopy of shade, it weaves through a field of wonderfully vibrant wildflowers, and crosses a small stream of cool bubbling water. The path ends at a white sandy beach as it approaches the ocean. (Seems like a rather long description for my symbol)

    My current theme in life is to enjoy the journey along my path. These things along the path are the things I love most in nature, and they remind me to pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us.

  8. Well, you know I love pondering, Eric, and always respect it! I think your description is wonderful – a forest, a field, a stream, the ocean. All of those things symbolize depth and meaning. The imagery reminds me of what I learned in a workshop I attended. The forest imagery symbolizes going out into the world, away from what is known. The field represents expansiveness. The flowers beauty. The water imagery symbolizes moving closer to our own deep waters – first a stream, then the ocean. And the fact that you want to slow down and take in each one in their time – wow, I think that’s just cool. It sounds like a life just bursting with riches. Thanks!

  9. Great post Patty!,

    I saw an invitation to a metaphor and I just couldn’t resist commenting haha, I was thinking being a tall tree like the redwood tree would be fascinating to be but they usually grow up in the high parts of the mountains, I think I’d rather be some little midget tree and the bottom of the valley, because when it rains the water might reach the redwood trees first since they are high up but then all the water slides down onto the valley and I’d end up with more :D, plus if tree loggers come, which tree do you think they’d cut first, the tall big healthy visible one at the top of the mountain or the little crippled one at the bottom of the valley? :p

    Keep up the wonderful writings 😉

    PS: I loooove the Wizard of Oz yay! lol.

  10. Hi Matthew – Thanks for the visiting and sharing your unique spin on the metaphor. Yup, the redwood tree sure has a few enemies, like those pesky loggers. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. It’s a survivor. I do get what you’re saying though. But wouldn’t your little tree be in greater danger of mudslides???

  11. Greetings, had some time to drop in and relax and read and just wanted to say I am enjoying your blog. It’s refreshing and thought-provoking and rich. I will return from time to time.

    • Hi Purple – Welcome! So glad you’ve stopped in. Thanks so very much for you kind comments.

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