Staying home vs. coming home

Rod Dreher is reading The Odyssey with his son.  He is finding that it ties right into his life.  Homer’s epic is about Odysseus coming home.  Which is not the same as staying at home.

Odysseus had to go to Troy, but after his business was concluded there, he had to go back home to Ithaca. The goddess Calypso detained him. He spent all his time in her company, enjoying all the comforts of life with a beautiful goddess, including, Homer tells us, lovemaking every night. And yet, when he wasn’t with her, he wept for home. He wanted to be home so badly that he refused immortality. Better to die at home than to live forever in wealth, comfort, and pleasure. If he stayed with Calypso, he would be untrue to himself, to his nature.

You can well imagine why this story appeals to me in a particular way. My Greek friend Dimitra told me that my moving back to my birthplace is what Greeks call a nostos, or homecoming. (That’s the root of our word “nostalgia.”) The Odyssey is a nostos epic, of course, but not everyone has the same nostos. The first four books of The Odyssey concern Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, and how he has to leave Ithaca to find his father, and in so doing find his way to manhood. His way “home” requires him to leave home for a time — to separate himself from his mother and his palace and all that he knows, and go out into the world searching. He cannot be a man unless he does this. I mean, it’s clear that if Telemachus takes the comfortable route, the route of least resistance, and stays at home, he will have failed.

I think about myself and my sister, Ruthie. I left. She stayed. Both of us were true to our natures. My having come home was not an admission of regret, but an acceptance that my own journey had in it a turn that I did not anticipate. I could have stayed with Calypso back East, so to speak, but that did not seem like the path the gods (well, God) revealed to me as my own. To be true to myself at 16, I had to leave. To be true to myself at 45, I had to return.

All of this is simply to say that it’s a wonder to me how reading this ancient poem about Greek kings, princes, and gods, connects so intimately to the life I’m living, the questions I have, the journey I’m on. I thought reading The Odyssey was just going to be about helping my 12 year old son with his homework. It turns out to be the inspiration for deep conversations between us about what it means to be a man in full.

via Place, Person, & ‘The Odyssey’ | The American Conservative.

Have any of you moved back to the place where you grew up?  How has that worked out?  Thomas Wolfe said, “you can’t go home again.”  But can you?

 

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    I grew up in Stevens Point, WI. At 18, I moved to Wausau, WI for two years. At 20, I moved to Virginia Beach, VA for two years, then Nutbush, VA (population 43) for one year, and then Virginia Beach again for one year.

    Virginia was wonderful, but it was so different, I eventually became homesick and moved back to Stevens Point. I’ve been here ever since. When I returned to my hometown, all my friends had moved away, as had my family. My mother, brother, and sister had all left Wisconsin, and my Dad lived thirty miles away. But Stevens Point still felt like home – the familiar streets and houses, and above all, the landscape and seasons. (Maybe it’s a Polish blood thing. Immigrants from Poland settled here because the landscape and seasons reminded them of the farming region they left behind in the old country.) For the last five years I’ve lived on the same street where I grew up, just a few blocks from the house I grew up in, and right across from the Lutheran church where I was baptized and attended Sunday school.

    Yes, you can go home again, but both you and home will be different. Question is, will home have changed too much to still feel like home? It hadn’t in my case.

  • Tom Hering

    I grew up in Stevens Point, WI. At 18, I moved to Wausau, WI for two years. At 20, I moved to Virginia Beach, VA for two years, then Nutbush, VA (population 43) for one year, and then Virginia Beach again for one year.

    Virginia was wonderful, but it was so different, I eventually became homesick and moved back to Stevens Point. I’ve been here ever since. When I returned to my hometown, all my friends had moved away, as had my family. My mother, brother, and sister had all left Wisconsin, and my Dad lived thirty miles away. But Stevens Point still felt like home – the familiar streets and houses, and above all, the landscape and seasons. (Maybe it’s a Polish blood thing. Immigrants from Poland settled here because the landscape and seasons reminded them of the farming region they left behind in the old country.) For the last five years I’ve lived on the same street where I grew up, just a few blocks from the house I grew up in, and right across from the Lutheran church where I was baptized and attended Sunday school.

    Yes, you can go home again, but both you and home will be different. Question is, will home have changed too much to still feel like home? It hadn’t in my case.

  • SKPeterson

    What is home, or rather, how long must one live somewhere before that becomes home? I grew up, although this is not really accurate as we moved when I was nine, in Sioux City, spent a few years in greater St. Paul, and then moved to Texas, where we lived for 25 years or so. I left (dragging along the wife and two kids), but the rest of the family stayed; Texas is now home, I guess. Anyhow, after a sojourn in the PNW for about 6 years, we moved to Tennessee. This is now home. Would I go back? Maybe. But, maybe I identify more with Abraham than Odysseus.

  • SKPeterson

    What is home, or rather, how long must one live somewhere before that becomes home? I grew up, although this is not really accurate as we moved when I was nine, in Sioux City, spent a few years in greater St. Paul, and then moved to Texas, where we lived for 25 years or so. I left (dragging along the wife and two kids), but the rest of the family stayed; Texas is now home, I guess. Anyhow, after a sojourn in the PNW for about 6 years, we moved to Tennessee. This is now home. Would I go back? Maybe. But, maybe I identify more with Abraham than Odysseus.

  • Dan Kempin

    Here I thought the author was going to apply this to the Christian life. The hometown angle is interesting, I suppose, but I’m not sure it is profound.

    This life is the odyssey with the temptations to forsake our true nature(‘s Creator) and set up residence. There are seductions, deceptions, and obstacles, just as in the great storytelling of Homer. Our life here is a story–a tragedy in the truest sense. But we must press on for home. In moments of truth, we realize that we are strangers here and we weep for home.

    It can be said that it is all about the journey, and there is a point to be made, yet in the truest and deepest sense, no, it isn’t about the journey. It is about making it home.

  • Dan Kempin

    Here I thought the author was going to apply this to the Christian life. The hometown angle is interesting, I suppose, but I’m not sure it is profound.

    This life is the odyssey with the temptations to forsake our true nature(‘s Creator) and set up residence. There are seductions, deceptions, and obstacles, just as in the great storytelling of Homer. Our life here is a story–a tragedy in the truest sense. But we must press on for home. In moments of truth, we realize that we are strangers here and we weep for home.

    It can be said that it is all about the journey, and there is a point to be made, yet in the truest and deepest sense, no, it isn’t about the journey. It is about making it home.

  • Tom Hering

    You’re maybe thinking of Pilgrim’s Progress?

  • Tom Hering

    You’re maybe thinking of Pilgrim’s Progress?

  • Dan Kempin

    Tom, #4,

    Who? Me?

  • Dan Kempin

    Tom, #4,

    Who? Me?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Thomas Wolfe said, “you can’t go home again.” But can you?

    What does this mean?

    I would say it means you can’t go back to childhood. When you “go back home” to mom and dad with your wife and your kids, you are the adult, the provider, the authority, and your parents are your dependents whom you provide support and guidance. You believe in what your parents taught you and that means that you do what they once did now that you are in their position. Just to be clear, parents receiving a government check/benefit of any kind are dependents. Their kids are paying for them. If you are getting public aid, you are a dependent.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Thomas Wolfe said, “you can’t go home again.” But can you?

    What does this mean?

    I would say it means you can’t go back to childhood. When you “go back home” to mom and dad with your wife and your kids, you are the adult, the provider, the authority, and your parents are your dependents whom you provide support and guidance. You believe in what your parents taught you and that means that you do what they once did now that you are in their position. Just to be clear, parents receiving a government check/benefit of any kind are dependents. Their kids are paying for them. If you are getting public aid, you are a dependent.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I grew up in southern California.

    I go back every now and then to visit family, but I can’t imagine ever moving back there to live.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I grew up in southern California.

    I go back every now and then to visit family, but I can’t imagine ever moving back there to live.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I grew up in a major industrial town south of Johannesburg (we moved there when I was 3). But my folks up’ed and left at the beginning of my third year of University. And they themselves met while living in Zambia, and came from opposite ends of South Africa.

    And now I’m not even a South African anymore.

    I identify less with Odysseus, and more with the “Wandering Jew”…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I grew up in a major industrial town south of Johannesburg (we moved there when I was 3). But my folks up’ed and left at the beginning of my third year of University. And they themselves met while living in Zambia, and came from opposite ends of South Africa.

    And now I’m not even a South African anymore.

    I identify less with Odysseus, and more with the “Wandering Jew”…

  • helen

    All I have left “at home” are three grave markers.

    I can’t even claim the church across the road, it has become elca, with a woman in the pulpit (unbelievable when I was ‘home’). It has moved away from me, although I am the ‘stranger and pilgrim’, as we prayed every Sunday there when it was home.
    I was ‘home’ last 20 years ago and found that it really wasn’t.
    I doubt I will go again.

  • helen

    All I have left “at home” are three grave markers.

    I can’t even claim the church across the road, it has become elca, with a woman in the pulpit (unbelievable when I was ‘home’). It has moved away from me, although I am the ‘stranger and pilgrim’, as we prayed every Sunday there when it was home.
    I was ‘home’ last 20 years ago and found that it really wasn’t.
    I doubt I will go again.

  • Momof3inTenn

    Thanks for the article Dr. Veith. Edie over at lifeingraceblog.com has been leading an online book club on Odysseus over the past month. It’s been good to read again after almost 20 years. This article certainly adds to the thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain about Odysseus.

    I live 5 hours from ‘home’ and my parents, and although we moved back within 30 min. of where my husband grew up, my in-laws now live two hours away half the year and in Florida the other half. Now that we have been homeschooling for a few years, I think more about the future and where my children will live when they grow up. I would love to buy 50 acres and have them all build houses near me. I realize this is most unrealistic, but my desire is to live in community with my children for the rest of our lives. I am happy for them to go off in to the world for a little while, but I do hope they return home. I realize that I did not return home, but I think mine might be a somewhat different case. We moved when I was 6 and my mother spent my formative years telling me that our new community was not home, so I believed her and chose not to fit in. Now she insists that she could never leave that same community, which is now her home, and will not even consider moving closer to me. So I guess for me, home is where my husband and children are.

  • Momof3inTenn

    Thanks for the article Dr. Veith. Edie over at lifeingraceblog.com has been leading an online book club on Odysseus over the past month. It’s been good to read again after almost 20 years. This article certainly adds to the thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain about Odysseus.

    I live 5 hours from ‘home’ and my parents, and although we moved back within 30 min. of where my husband grew up, my in-laws now live two hours away half the year and in Florida the other half. Now that we have been homeschooling for a few years, I think more about the future and where my children will live when they grow up. I would love to buy 50 acres and have them all build houses near me. I realize this is most unrealistic, but my desire is to live in community with my children for the rest of our lives. I am happy for them to go off in to the world for a little while, but I do hope they return home. I realize that I did not return home, but I think mine might be a somewhat different case. We moved when I was 6 and my mother spent my formative years telling me that our new community was not home, so I believed her and chose not to fit in. Now she insists that she could never leave that same community, which is now her home, and will not even consider moving closer to me. So I guess for me, home is where my husband and children are.

  • helen

    sg @ 6
    If you are getting public aid, you are a dependent.

    Your father, if he had a job, and possibly your mother, too, paid for Social Security and Medicare out of every check.
    How supercilious of you!

  • helen

    sg @ 6
    If you are getting public aid, you are a dependent.

    Your father, if he had a job, and possibly your mother, too, paid for Social Security and Medicare out of every check.
    How supercilious of you!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Your father, if he had a job, and possibly your mother, too, paid for Social Security and Medicare out of every check.”

    Right. And that money supported their parents (and their age cohort).

    Social Security benefits can be eliminated at any time. You have no right to them whatever. Social Security tax aka payroll tax is the same. It can be repealed at any time. It is just a plain old tax.

    http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/the-social-security-tax/

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Your father, if he had a job, and possibly your mother, too, paid for Social Security and Medicare out of every check.”

    Right. And that money supported their parents (and their age cohort).

    Social Security benefits can be eliminated at any time. You have no right to them whatever. Social Security tax aka payroll tax is the same. It can be repealed at any time. It is just a plain old tax.

    http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/the-social-security-tax/

  • SKPeterson

    helen @ 11 – I do this at the risk of derailing the thread, but most retirees exhaust their paid-in value of their Social Security benefits in a matter of a few years. The longer you live, the less likely any Social Security payments you get are from dollars you earned or from their interest. No one over the age of 85 is receiving Social Security they paid for.

    See this: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/social-security-medicare-benefits-over-lifetime.pdf

  • SKPeterson

    helen @ 11 – I do this at the risk of derailing the thread, but most retirees exhaust their paid-in value of their Social Security benefits in a matter of a few years. The longer you live, the less likely any Social Security payments you get are from dollars you earned or from their interest. No one over the age of 85 is receiving Social Security they paid for.

    See this: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/social-security-medicare-benefits-over-lifetime.pdf

  • skyorrichegg

    @Klasie I get where you are coming from. I grew up in a military family and my wife is a nurse in the army. Every two years I feel like going somewhere new, college was… painful, being in one place so long. So yeah I think I identify less with the nostalgia of my birthplace, Germany, and more with “the wandering Jew” as well.

  • skyorrichegg

    @Klasie I get where you are coming from. I grew up in a military family and my wife is a nurse in the army. Every two years I feel like going somewhere new, college was… painful, being in one place so long. So yeah I think I identify less with the nostalgia of my birthplace, Germany, and more with “the wandering Jew” as well.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    I left my home town in Montana when I graduated from high school when I was 18, and returned when I was 50. I absolutely love being back in Montana, though there were good things about the other places I have lived: Washington, Missouri, Romania, and Colorado.

    I love the mountains, plains, wildlife, weather (it snowed this morning after being in the mid-80s yesterday), culture, and being close to family.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    I left my home town in Montana when I graduated from high school when I was 18, and returned when I was 50. I absolutely love being back in Montana, though there were good things about the other places I have lived: Washington, Missouri, Romania, and Colorado.

    I love the mountains, plains, wildlife, weather (it snowed this morning after being in the mid-80s yesterday), culture, and being close to family.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Hi Skyorrichegg; I didn’t know you were a Cranach reader.

    For everyone else: I was skyorrichegg’s high school chemistry and physics teacher. Small world. Unless there are two military kids named skyorrichegg married to an army wife.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Hi Skyorrichegg; I didn’t know you were a Cranach reader.

    For everyone else: I was skyorrichegg’s high school chemistry and physics teacher. Small world. Unless there are two military kids named skyorrichegg married to an army wife.

  • mole

    The theme of life as a pilgrimage and a struggle to get home has Biblical roots and echoes throughout the centuries and even today. But don’t we often have difficulty determining just where our home is?
    C.S. Lewis wrote of “Sehnsucht” – the inconsolable longing for something which this world can not satisfy and warns of false homes:
    “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world; but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God; a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for Home.”

  • mole

    The theme of life as a pilgrimage and a struggle to get home has Biblical roots and echoes throughout the centuries and even today. But don’t we often have difficulty determining just where our home is?
    C.S. Lewis wrote of “Sehnsucht” – the inconsolable longing for something which this world can not satisfy and warns of false homes:
    “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world; but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God; a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for Home.”

  • skyorrichegg

    Hey Mr. Nelstead, yeah I’ve been reading Cranach for a pretty long time, since at least 2010, but I’m pretty sure even before then:

    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/03/26/global-warming-policies-vs-africa/
    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/03/22/the-executive-order/
    (I’m really good at being the last commenter)

    I can thank this blog and its commenters for helping keep my political knowledge current and for letting me be able to identify a certain Renaissance artist’s symbol in their paintings.

  • skyorrichegg

    Hey Mr. Nelstead, yeah I’ve been reading Cranach for a pretty long time, since at least 2010, but I’m pretty sure even before then:

    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/03/26/global-warming-policies-vs-africa/
    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/03/22/the-executive-order/
    (I’m really good at being the last commenter)

    I can thank this blog and its commenters for helping keep my political knowledge current and for letting me be able to identify a certain Renaissance artist’s symbol in their paintings.

  • helen

    SK @ 13
    My Dad paid Soc Sec and died at 36; my Mom at 52.
    I doubt I will ever collect on the money I am paying in now.
    People I know past 75 are thinning out fast.
    [Sorry if I am raising a side issue.]

  • helen

    SK @ 13
    My Dad paid Soc Sec and died at 36; my Mom at 52.
    I doubt I will ever collect on the money I am paying in now.
    People I know past 75 are thinning out fast.
    [Sorry if I am raising a side issue.]

  • Pingback: ‘Man of Misery, Whose Land Have I Hit on Now?!’ (Part I) « Patos Papa

  • Pingback: ‘Man of Misery, Whose Land Have I Hit on Now?!’ (Part I) « Patos Papa

  • Joanne

    Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

    We lived in South Florida for a while. Then we went to see a movie, “The trip to Bountiful.” Then it seems that within a week my sister called from home in Louisiana and told us that the house next door to her had gone up for sale.


    Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling to me and to you: Come home, come home, Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner come home.”

    We thought it was a message from God and we came home and have been now over 20 years in the house next door. We helped raise up all the grandchildren, and they’ve all moved away. One’s in China with her 20 year old son. They’ll be back, Louisiana is the Land of the Lotus eaters. I tell everybody that. You’ll be back.

    It was strange at first living back in Louisiana, freshening up the ole patois, really getting into the seafood. Louisiana is an easy place to live (between the storms). It’s not going anywhere and very few outsiders move here. We live close to New Orleans, a city that has had precipitous population drops since 1960 when it was still the Queen city of the South (only city just about before then).

    When the rest of the south started growing like gangbusters, Louisiana didn’t. Our Washington politicians got us some space jobs, but I recon that sugarcane, and soy beans are the backbone of the economy, and seafood. And of course the oll bidness, but that mostly now is run from Houston, and we all are just the roustabouts. The jobs pay well, but are very cyclical.

    Home for us, the whole family, is really the lower half of the Pearl River valley. I have relatives in almost every cemetery within 25 miles of that River. It’s the river that turns into the Honey Island Swamp just south of Bogalusa. To be comfortable here you’ d have to have a lot of tolerance for a kind of rogue simplicity.

    There is a lot of history behind the Trojan War and the colapse of civilation around 1500 when the Greek dark ages began. Many Greeks moved out of the Agean area at that time. Around 1100, the Egyptians settled some defeated “Sea Peoples” in the destroyed cities along the sea in Canaan. Now, archaeologists are telling us their remains indicate an Agean Mycenean origin and they might have called themselves the Palesti and the Israelites might have called them Philestines. David called him Goliath, but his Mycenean friends called him Kalliath. Small world.

  • Joanne

    Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

    We lived in South Florida for a while. Then we went to see a movie, “The trip to Bountiful.” Then it seems that within a week my sister called from home in Louisiana and told us that the house next door to her had gone up for sale.


    Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling to me and to you: Come home, come home, Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner come home.”

    We thought it was a message from God and we came home and have been now over 20 years in the house next door. We helped raise up all the grandchildren, and they’ve all moved away. One’s in China with her 20 year old son. They’ll be back, Louisiana is the Land of the Lotus eaters. I tell everybody that. You’ll be back.

    It was strange at first living back in Louisiana, freshening up the ole patois, really getting into the seafood. Louisiana is an easy place to live (between the storms). It’s not going anywhere and very few outsiders move here. We live close to New Orleans, a city that has had precipitous population drops since 1960 when it was still the Queen city of the South (only city just about before then).

    When the rest of the south started growing like gangbusters, Louisiana didn’t. Our Washington politicians got us some space jobs, but I recon that sugarcane, and soy beans are the backbone of the economy, and seafood. And of course the oll bidness, but that mostly now is run from Houston, and we all are just the roustabouts. The jobs pay well, but are very cyclical.

    Home for us, the whole family, is really the lower half of the Pearl River valley. I have relatives in almost every cemetery within 25 miles of that River. It’s the river that turns into the Honey Island Swamp just south of Bogalusa. To be comfortable here you’ d have to have a lot of tolerance for a kind of rogue simplicity.

    There is a lot of history behind the Trojan War and the colapse of civilation around 1500 when the Greek dark ages began. Many Greeks moved out of the Agean area at that time. Around 1100, the Egyptians settled some defeated “Sea Peoples” in the destroyed cities along the sea in Canaan. Now, archaeologists are telling us their remains indicate an Agean Mycenean origin and they might have called themselves the Palesti and the Israelites might have called them Philestines. David called him Goliath, but his Mycenean friends called him Kalliath. Small world.


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