You gotta be a certain age to catch the references here. “I Wish I Was Homeward Bound” is a song by Paul Simon. It’s also a very different movie, and both are from the 1960s. Yes, that is now old.
ICYDNN, though, my title is slightly different, as I use the subjunctive mood which he does not. While it sings better as “I Wish I Was Homeward Bound,” it reads better as “I Wish I Were Homeward Bound.” Thank you, Grammar Nazi.
Ok, but What’s My Point?
I’ll get to that. The title is a teaser. Journalists put the most important stuff at the top and then fill in the details further down but Pilgrim Life is about journeys where the destination or purpose is not always clear at first. It must be discovered. And as I was on a recent journey, tha is the palce to start.
The Trouble with Writing about the Pilgrim Life…
… is that it’s hard to write about it while doing it.
For most of two weeks I, actually we, were on the road. That is why you heare nothing from me. Lots went on and I thought of writing several times but stuff kept happening. Let’s just say that multi-tasking is not my gift.
Yet, for being a trip made of separate parts strung together, a line emerged from the going; one that like a Rorschach blot invites me to say what it looks like. In this case (and this is no blinding insight here) it was searching for home. Only when it was done, though, did I see that. But as another song says, “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning.”
“Steel City, Hell with the Lid Off,” Pittsburgh
My denominational convention met here for the first time in its 60 year history, so we went. Mostly for me to take part in ceremonies where newbies get their welcome and geezers walk the plank into retirement. I could comment on the events, but Pittsburgh itself is what matters here.
More than 20 years ago we came through here one summer and spent a wildly hot humid afternoon with the same prof and wife I saw in Claremont CA. They treated us, our boys especially, to ice cream and chocolate sauce, while we adults nattered on. They lived just at the top on one of the many hills there, looking down on the Allegheny River.
We had come before because Splendid Spouse (a reference chosen because she is just that, and her name is her property to share, not mine) lived there as a middle schooler. We called it Junior High back then. She made a lifelong friend with whom she stayed in touch after moving back to Baltimore. Every year, then, we stop and see her on our way to and from Maryland.
Way before that, my parents took us to Pittsburgh to see friends who had two kids the same age as my brother and me; we were about 8 and 6 at the time. Memories of that visit are vivid because of a game of hide and seek. The little girl and I ran into a bedroom slamming that door. Then we ran into a closet slamming that door, such that both doors were stuck. It took a call to the fire department to rescue us.
Then there is Mr. Rogers
But wait, There’s More!
I have cousins, fourth cousins no less, who live in Tappan NY, but we only met (by accident!) in the mid 1990s when we both lived in Brooklyn. A friendship grew from that, and we spent an entire day talking and walking and eating, including about our enslaving ancestors from the 17th and 18th century.
Finally, after a midday visit with a friend in Bridgeport CT, we landed in Petersham MA for a day, where we talked and talked with folks who joined the little church there, where I first served back in the early 1980s. That is also where our two infant children are buried, who died in 1983 and 1988. SS and I know we shall join them at some point.
Going to all these places sent us along roads and through regions we knew from earlier times. Each hill had its memory, each turn in the road, and as we went I felt a growing nostalgia for something that never really was but for which I have longed – home.
Of course, I had a home, many in fact.
But the idea that ‘home’ is a particular place where I belong, that has never been true. Yearning for a sense of belonging to a place has been part of my melancholy since we left the home I knew at age 9. Dad got a job that took us from Silver Spring MD to Baltimore. That house, visible here thanks to Google street view was home for me. Though I lived there only four years, and have lived in Grand Rapids now more than four times as long, to say nothing of stays in Baltimore and New York and more, they have never been home like that. I have felt homeless since I was nine.
Then I read St. Augustine
It is 1975 and I am in seminary, searching for my vocational home as it were. There, reading one of those ancient required books, the Confessions of St. Augustine, I was dumbstruck to find this passage, famous to millions but heretofore unknown to me, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Restless heart. Yes. Nor has much has changed between the year 400 and the year 1980 when Bruce Springsteen wrote,
“Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a h-h-hungry heart”
It even starts in Baltimore. But does everybody have a hungry heart, a restless heart? I do not know. I only know I do, and that sometimes it is a heavy heart as well.
There is much more to this theme.
But I will stop with this recollection from being stuck in a closet with a little girl in Pittsburgh. It was not scary at all. We kinda liked it. The smell of mothballs and the feel of winter coats and the thin line of daylight at the bottom of the door was comforting. Though I had no idea of romantic love yet, I remember liking the girl a lot, and being a little sad when we were rescued because we were no longer alone.
Why do I remember this so well? Because five or six years later dad told us that on their way back from the New York World’s Fair of 1964 all but one was killed in a car crash just blocks from their home. She was the one who survived.
I wish I knew her name.