Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leaving home

“This is my home, this is my only home
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known”
—Dave Carter

Home has been on my mind. I just returned from Washington state where I spent 10 glorious days in Seattle and on San Juan Island with my children and grandchildren. I can’t recall ever being in a place as beautiful as San Juan Island. Yes, Mom, including Hawaii. I awoke in the morning at first light to a breathtaking view outside my bedroom window—green grass and lavender in full bloom and Griffin Bay and osprey and bald eagles and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. I loved it and I loved being with the people on this Earth whom I love most. But still, it wasn’t home.

I flew home on that long flight to the other Washington, reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel entitled Home, and thinking about what home means to me. I have always lived in the Washington, DC, area. Maybe I always will. I haven’t left home, but in a sense I feel that my home has left me. The town where I grew up no longer exists. The metropolitan area used to be a city where we could drive from one end to the other in less than an hour. Rolling hills and farmland were just beyond our neighborhood. Although I lived in a suburb, I could have walked three blocks from my house to a full-time running farm with cows and chickens and fresh summer corn. Now high-rise apartments have been built on the farm land. We rode the trolley into the downtown part of the city to go to department stores. Ladies wearing white gloves operated the elevators and announced what was on each floor of the department stores: ladies lingerie, shoes, linens. We knew who lived in every house in our neighborhood—everyone’s name, their religion, their dog’s name, and what color bike they rode. I beat up Danny Corridon down by the mail box because he hurt my little brother. I got hundreds of bee stings. It felt like home.

Now my little house feels comforting to me, but my neighborhood is just one small dot in a huge sprawling metropolitan area that extends for 50 miles in any direction. Traffic is horrendous. Little remains of the sense of belonging, the familiarity that once existed. People are rude. It seems that many people move to Washington for work, perhaps to advance their careers, but they never intend to make it their home. They treat one another like strangers and they intend to keep it that way.

So, what do I do when my home town has slipped away? I’m beginning to revamp my sense of what home means to me. I can’t make time stand still. I can’t make all these “newcomers” who have moved here since 1960 move away. I can’t take away the Metro and highways and bring back the chickens.

What does home mean to you?

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