I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts. (Ephesians 6:22)
Though the statement “You can’t go home again,” is typically credited to author Thomas Wolfe, he picked it from a conversation with author Ella Winter. She asked him, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” Wolfe got her permission to use that as the title of his book. This is the season of homecomings for me. Going home again to my childhood homes (there were several of them) is not possible. However, I’ve had several reunions with family and friends in recent months and a couple more coming up. They have done much to encourage my heart.
Last week I spent time with both my brothers, my daughters, and members of the family I married into while in my early twenties. In a couple of weeks I’ll return to my native Ohio for a college reunion with two friends from that chapter of life. Later in the month I’ll travel for work with people I’m just starting to get to know. After making those plans, I discovered my closest friend from high school now lives in that same community; so another reunion is on the horizon.
Revisiting the Past
For most of the members of my family it is literally true that we cannot go home again. The places where we once lived have either been torn down to make room for a freeway or are now occupied by other people. This doesn’t stop us from driving past places we used to live.
The first homecoming of last week was a trip to Ann Arbor where my older brother has lived nearly all his adult life. He struggles now to remember much of anything. In an effort to give his wife some time to herself, my other brother, daughter, and I drove him around town, stopping in front of the house where he once lived. That generated a conversation about whether or not this was where my daughter had her preschool age asthma episode. Our recollections are inconclusive, but trying to remember brought back many memories of her childhood. That somehow made me feel a bit more settled and grounded. Visiting the past now and then has that effect on me. I suppose this is the same reason people visit gravesites.
Remembering A Man Of Great Influence
The next reunion was back in Ohio for the memorial service for Uncle Roy. Other than college and serving in the Korean War, Uncle Roy never lived far from where he was raised. Consequently, the church was filled to capacity with life-long friends, fellow members of his congregation, and former students from his teaching and school administration days.
During the service they played a video clip of him giving his last children’s sermon, a few years ago when he was eighty-seven years old. He told a popular fable about an elderly man, a young boy, and a donkey on their way to market. For most people the moral of the story is that no matter what you do, someone won’t like it. Uncle Roy focused on how quick we are judge others without knowing their situation. He summed up his message by saying. “My prayer for you is that when you judge these people, that you judge them with great thought, and with great compassion, and with great understanding.”
He then gave each child an apple, telling them they were each the apple of God’s eye and that each of them was the apple of his eye too.
Legacies of Influence
Uncle Roy married into the family only a few years ahead of me. His beloved wife, Mary, is the last living family member of that generation. Though they never had children of their own, they have played leading roles in the lives of four generations. The family came from California, Washington, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, and Florida to support Mary and celebrate Roy’s life.
This week the social and news media have been filled with well-deserved tributes to Senator John McCain. McCain made significant sacrifices for and contributions to our country. Roy is famous only within his circle of friends, neighbors and family. Both men have left an indelible mark on the hearts and in the lives of all who were privileged to know them.
Going Home Again and Again
Thomas Wolfe and Ella Winter were partially right. Even if we moved back into the same bedroom in the same house in the same community we once left behind, it would be different. People and places keep changing. Yet, in another sense, we can never really leave home at all. We take the people and places that have influenced us wherever we go.
Maybe we cannot physically go home again; but we can stay connected to our roots. A tree is only as healthy as its root system. Perhaps the same can be said for people. In order to grow, we need to find ways to connect and reconnect to our roots. In that sense, we can go home again and again.