Last week, I was able to go home to Indianapolis on my winter/spring break from ballet. It was such a gift to feel like I could briefly slip back into childhood. I hung around the house with family, screamed and laughed with dear friends, and took ballet classes at my home studio.
Being home led to my asking a lot of questions about what it really is to be, well, home. I had a strange experience going to Sunday Mass at my home parish in Indy. When I had gone at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I truly felt like I was finally home after months of separation. But this time, I found myself missing my church in Cincinnati just a little. The feeling wore off fairly quickly, but at the beginning I felt like I was revisiting the past rather than entering into a present reality.
The truth is that the further along I go in life, the less and less Indianapolis and the places I always called home will actually be just that. And yet, there will always be something uniquely sacred about those places we still call home, even when they begin to slip into an existence merely on a journal page or in a recess of the mind’s memory. That’s why Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Cather’s My Antonia, fictional celebrations of nostalgia and reminiscence are so beloved. They reverence a part of the common human experience that is not talked about for fear of seeming sentimental and superficial. And yet, God Himself commands that the Passover be vividly recollected until the end of the world. It is in the bloodiness and beauty of the past that we see God’s glory and providence. And in finding God, we find ourselves.
While not necessarily as high in caliber as Waugh and Cather, at Mass I was reminded of the conclusion of the novel, Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green, where the protagonist states,
You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved…that love is both how you become a person and why.
I would argue that places can be first loves as well as people. I looked around my home parish and saw the spot I was kneeling when my life changed on a retreat in my freshman year. I smiled when my eyes fell on the outdoor fountain where one of my best friends and I had sat and splashed each other while laughing our heads off (we were 15, young enough to know better and old enough to not care). My heart melted at the sight of the adjacent convent, where I have had beautiful, joyful encounters with others and the Lord.
But above all, the Adoration chapel at my home parish is my ever ancient, ever new secret place. It was in that chapel two years ago that the Lord revealed facets of His work in my heart so beautiful that I literally skipped out of the chapel with joy. Today, those desires and that joy is being purified in a way I didn’t expect at the time. The Lord is asking for some things back so that He can give me something even more precious. But I don’t know what that precious thing is yet, so in His gentleness, the Lord put me right back in that same spot at the corner of the chapel. It was there, resting against the brick wall behind the smooth wooden beam that juts out toward the monstrance, that I found the strength to let go two years ago. If I could do it two years ago, I can do it now. But I needed to be in that place of my first love to say yes in the way I’ve wanted to for the last several months.
The place of our first love has profound value, but not infinite value. Human souls though? Those are of infinite value. As I was sitting in Mass, I saw so many people who I have loved over the years and who I know love me. Right after Mass, I saw one of my best friends and was screaming with joy while raiding the church’s coffee supply just like we always had. As I walked to my car after a night out with her and another bestie, the deepest emotion I felt was one of safety and security. There are some people who are home. People whose presence will always be home, no matter how far away life takes you from them.
But if there’s anything we’ve learned in this last year, it’s that the places we love can be locked. People who live down the street from us can feel worlds apart. And yet, there is One who we can turn to and whisper alongside Jane Eyre, “Wherever you are is my home – my only home.” As I knelt in my old spot in the Adoration chapel a matter of hours before driving back to Cincinnati, I asked Jesus, “Where is home?”
His answer was something to the extent of, “Find me, and you will always find your home.”
His Spirit is moving as I sit on my front porch here in Cincinnati. Here, I am home. Wherever that Spirit leads, I can follow, knowing that I don’t need a bird’s nest or a fox’s den as long as I see the face of the Son of Man. Wherever He is, I am home and in the home that is meant for me.
But that doesn’t discredit the fact that a piece of my heart has been forever shaped by the places I grew up, by the people who loved me and still do, and by the Father who works all things for my good. As I pulled shut the door of my old ballet studio, I encountered once again the tension we experience in growing up as we cherish the past and look boldly to the future. When I don’t have words for an experience or emotion, I look to books. As I walked to my car, I whispered the final words from Turtles All the Way Down, “No one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.”