Well the reality of the situation is that after four months in Italy I’m returning “home” and sometimes I think I’m just dusting my hands and saying, “well that’s that,” but really it’s much more than that. I keep thinking: “and then there’s that other thing…” One more reason why I can’t wait to go home, one more reason why I’m reluctant to leave. It’s always an area of interest, when your heart feels so torn and beat up about something. An area of pain or suffering, perhaps, but adding yet another layer to life and as a writer I can’t help but say: “I hate that this is happening to me, but I love that this is happening to me.”
Honestly, there are going to be problems anywhere you go. And I’m not raining on anybody’s parade here, I’m just saying. You go to a place thinking that it’s as emotionally easy as looking at a photograph of that place. Then you go, you meet people. Not only do you eventually have to leave them, sometimes they leave you, and they leave you forever, and you’re left grieving for them in a place foreign to you, feeling more alone than ever. Because of your turmoil, the place begins to be a special place to you. You develop a way of living. You become accustomed to certain things (for me, the church bells ringing all the time, the pigeons, and these huge keys for all the doors) and then you find that you have to leave all of this behind, to practically start over.
Life is all about “continual beginnings” and “habitual fresh starts” as J.R.R. Tolkien would have it. But I think it’s a matter of realizing that it is a “fresh” start. You don’t pick up right where you left off, when you come home. You start exactly as you find yourself in that moment. And if I may be allowed to quote Tolkien again…. “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?” We live too much in the past. We experience one thing, and instead of accepting what it has been, we go back to try to experience the same thing again, but it never works like that. Nothing is the same, and you are left feeling empty and dissatisfied with yourself and everybody else.
And in a sense this is going into the idea of home more than the idea of being abroad. I love home. It’s a crazy place filled with love and stupid fights about who gets the last piece of pie, and tons of people, not just siblings but aunts and uncles and it’s this time of year, Christmas, that I get to enter back into that circle of family, that just keeps stretching with more births and marriages.
But I find that when I am dreaming of home, I am dreaming of my home in Cleveland. When I realize that I no longer live in Cleveland, I am dreaming of the old house in Pittsburgh, where we had fires in the winter and out of my window at night I could see the stars, and in the morning see a damp, dull light fingering its way through a bleak sky. I loved those mornings. And it’s a harsh reality to remember the summer before I went away, the summer we moved (again) into a house where I was never at home in the literal sense. And this is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it was.
What is important in coming back? Things are never as you expect them to be. They always end up being different. Here I am filled with nostalgia for my old homes, and yet I have the spirit and the joy of those old homes waiting for me in this new house.
Sure, life is hard. And I’m not saying that lightly. (Well, I am, but I’m not saying it thoughtlessly.) I have a few brutally hard things running through my mind. The things that keep me up at night. Yes, life is hard and it’s something to accept and something to deal with. And also I have been reading Thomas Watson’s “All Things for Good” and he has been laying particular emphasis on the fact that some of the best things come from our difficulties and our sufferings. God is constantly nurturing and growing us, growing us to him, always. He’s not stomping on our heads or starving us or deserting us entirely or leaving us to die. The simple fact that everything is, in the end, for our own good is in itself a hard thing to believe and accept, but once you can accept it, it frees you from so much fear and worry and doubt.
I have learned so much while I have been here. I love so many things, I will miss so many things. But this is wonderful about the human capacity to love and appreciate—there are even more things for me to love and develop the further I plunge into life. And really, even though “going home” seems to imply a sense of safety and security, it feels more like an adventure right now, almost like home is a place I’ve never gone to before.
And I cannot, absolutely cannot resist quoting Wendell Berry as my closing thought: “I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.”