Of all the Roads...
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
My mother last night in her kitchen took a Polaroid of Darlene and me, purposefully positioning us in front of a sampler that hung for years in her mother’s kitchen than reads, “Of all the roads both east and west, the one that leads to home is best.” Earlier in the evening, during a light supper in the kitchen, Dad talked about his favorite blog postings from France. He has been perhaps my most active and engaged reader, and in truth, I probably have him in mind more than any other reader when I write. My blog, among its other purposes, is a way for a New England son to speak openly to his father, through the bizarre vehicle of an intimate journal viewable anywhere in the world.
But my mother’s gentle probing last night was not about the blog. It was about home. “Even animals have a place they know is home,” she began when she and I were sitting at the table and Darlene and Dad were bringing plates in from the pantry. I knew exactly which nerve she was approaching, and I wasn’t ready to have it hit after a jet-lagged day of travel. “I know there is a point here somewhere, I just don’t know what it is,” I said, laughing, cutting her off. But that wasn’t true. I knew her point was to question our emerging manner of life, which comprises so much travel that it calls into question any traditional sense of where home is. By the end of this year, Darlene and I will have spent nearly six months away from Denver. As we lay over here in Cambridge for a few days before the flight home Saturday night, the whole concept of home is bugging me.
My parents know where they will be buried. It is a family plot on a hillside in Sudbury, Massachusetts, overlooking the Unitarian church where they were married. They grew up in the same town, and except for brief corporate interludes in Rochester, New York, and Pampa, Texas, they have lived within 20 miles of that hillside for more than 70 years. I moved to Wyoming when I was 30 years old and lived in Casper with Darlene for 20 years before very early retirement led to our move to downtown Denver and nearly a decade of increasingly frequent and far-flung travel. Darlene’s parents lived for most of their lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They are buried beside each other under a big pine tree in the Belle Fourche cemetery less than two miles from the church where they were married. The cemetery has a flock of wild turkeys that moves slowly among the graves.
In France I began a morning practice of reading a chapter from 100 Mots Pour Construire Son Bonheur (100 Words for Creating Well-Being) by Robert Misrahi, a retired philosopher from the Sorbonne. Today’s chapter, titled “Château,” is a serendipitous rumination this mother-lode of imagery for home, evoking the adage, “a man’s home is his castle.” The château evokes defense from enemies, beauty, celebrations of life events, and a life of sumptuous well-being and joy. But even the grandest château cannot, Misrahi writes, “échapper à la condition éphémère de la vie” (escape the ephemeral condition of life), and so he moves on to the “château intériere,” a phrase from saint Théresa of Avila. This interior château is of my own making. Here at a table in the third-floor apartment of my parent’s home, writing with my yellow Lamy pen, reading a book I’ve brought here from France, I feel a momentary sense of home—strong, safe, happy, and mine.
Darlene’s account of her fears in France makes me think of all the moving around I did as a child, from Sudbury to Texas, to Cohasset, Massachusetts, to Wayland. At the age of seven, my first night in our new home in Wayland, I told my parents, “This is a beautiful house. We won’t have any trouble selling this one.” My comment horrified them, and we lived in that house until I left for college. But my fear, felt in France in greater relief, is that I am not at home anyplace. That I have no home. That there is no road that will take me home. This is a feeling of being lost and vulnerable that seems of a similar nature to Darlene’s.
I was terrified to invite her into the blog. Now I’m sure it was a great idea. We are perhaps creating a new home “here,” in our shared willingness to create something new from our travels--our joys AND our fears.