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Leaving Home and Legacy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about dying lately. Maybe not so much dying as just not being here anymore.

This week I will be signing the papers that will detach me from the house I grew up in, the homey, red brick colonial that my family has owned since 1958. It is more than the end of an era; it is the end of *all* my eras so far. Although I’ve lived in my current home for twenty-seven years — way longer than I lived in my family home — somehow that house has always been “home.” Where’s home now?

Home

Home

At the same time, I am preparing to turn sixty years old in a few short weeks. This preparation mostly entails drinking more than is good for me more often than is good for me (perhaps trying to feel like I’m in my twenties again?) and frequently shaking my head and saying “I can’t believe this,” or “How did this happen?”

I’m crying a lot, missing my brother and my mom and even my father, who died forty years ago this May. It’s letting go of the house that’s stirring up the memories.

At any rate, these happenstances have brought to my attention the likelihood that I will die at some point. I knew this, of course, I think I just know it more now. What will be left when I am no more?

What Lasts?

A few weeks ago, we had a Lenten Quiet Day at my church where we spent time in prayer and reflection and meditation. One of the Hebrew scriptures that we used for meditation was Psalm 139, which reads in part, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I got to thinking about that word “everlasting.” What is everlasting? For someone like me with no kids, no DNA spread about, what of me is everlasting?

I used to think that my legacy was wrapped up in the National Parks and forests and rivers that I helped protect for posterity when I was Public Lands Director at Sierra Club. But those aren’t everlasting. Even if they survive America’s insatiable need to drill, mine, and chop down every last cotton-pickin’ acre of wildlands, they will still be dust eventually.

So no everlasting legacy there. Nope.

I also used to see a trace of legacy in my role as chair of the pastor search process that released my friend Brian McLaren from pastoring the church he founded, so that he could be a full-time author and international speaker spreading a gospel of love and justice — at least a small flickering candle against the darkness of the judgmental, hate-preaching juggernaut that many people think of as “Christianity” and from which they understandably flee.

But Jesus didn’t come to establish a “religion,” and he doesn’t need Brian McLaren to save him, and Brian didn’t need me to save him either. Ten years has put this in perspective. I’m glad to have helped Brian and our church out, but God is God, and is likely by turns divinely amused and annoyed by the way humans represent Her/Him/Is/I AM.

True Home

So what truly is everlasting? Only love. Only the Spirit of Love that passes from one to another to another for all time and into eternity. And I believe what Jesus’s friend John wrote two thousand years ago: God is love. That’s where “home” is, always was, and always will be.

So let me not waste time, God. Let me not waste time clinging to brick and mortar or searching for meaning or significance in things that don’t last. Let me dwell only on the love in my past, and let me love well in the time I have left. 

Related post: https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

How Not to Sell a House

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I don’t know how to sell a house. I don’t know the first thing about selling houses, except that the process involves lawyers and inspectors and banks, and scary questions about mold and termites and squirrels in the attic. That’s why I just keep repeating “as is, strictly as is” and hope that someone will hand me a giant check and we’ll be done with it.

Since this hasn’t happened yet, I broke down and hired a realtor this week. I have a few friends who are realtors, but I value our friendships too much to ask them to sell the house I grew up in.

I am not going to be an easy client.

I’m already familiar with the squinchy little thing my new realtor does with her mouth when she’s wondering exactly how to humor me and get me out of the way so she can do her job.

Realtors have to tell you hard truths. They have to answer questions like, “What happens if they cut down Mom’s magnolia tree?” Answer: not your business. “But I want to make sure they keep the red oak flooring.” Not your business. Realtors have to tell you that it’s your memories that are worth a million bucks, not your house.

Photo from Public Domain

Photo from Public Domain

Today I showed the house to a young couple who might want to buy it. I told them that I have a picture of me and my two best friends standing right there on that step, all dressed up for our first day of kindergarten; and here’s where my Dad always hung stockings on the mantle; and my mother planted that magnolia tree fifty-five years ago and you should see it in full bloom, it’s stunning. And also did you know it’s good luck to have a lilac bush by the front door, even if it is an aging, scraggly one?

I couldn’t stop blathering. I was starting to sound like a pathetic crazy old lady, I thought, but at least I didn’t scream at them, “Please, please don’t change anything! Please don’t even touch a thing! Just go away!”

I keep telling myself that once my Mom’s house is sold, I’ll have money for travel and for fixing up my own house and garden. But of course what I really want is for my Mom and my brother to still be alive and living happily by the magnolia tree.

Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of things I didn’t know how to do. Things I never thought I could do. Things I wish I didn’t have to do. There’s an ancient Middle Eastern proverb that has kept me afloat, and I’m clinging to it once again:

This too shall pass.

Home, Heart, and Tkei

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The rain pounded on my windshield and the trees at the side of the road began to thrash as I watched the huge black cloudbank to my left turn an ominous yellow and begin to elongate at the bottom.

I told myself that watching The Wizard of Oz the night before had agitated my imagination: I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and not in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. Still, the images of twirling houses and flying cows would not be banished.

“There’s no place like home,” I said out loud, though I was alone. This made me laugh, which was good, and then there was a sudden burst of sun, and a brief but brilliant rainbow splashed across the darkness.

The rainbow gave me courage, and I decided to nix the idea of a hotel and push on towards home, though New York City’s Friday afternoon traffic had cursed me with several extra hours behind the wheel.

I just wanted to be home.

Theoretically Home

The concept of home is near-mystical to me, even if the reality conjures up never-ending lists, especially in the summer when I shuttle between New Hampshire and Maryland trying to keep up two houses. Mow lawn, buy groceries, do laundry, feed birds, water plants, pay bills.

I’m theoretically home now, back in Maryland. Yet I also feel I’ve been ripped away from home, having left my nephew and his four kids at our house in New England. spring nh 2013b 026.Lillys I have friends in New Hampshire as well, and I miss them when I’m not there. I want to keep up with them, to be a part of their lives, not just a drop-in visitor.

Divided Hearts

They say home is where the heart is, but it’s not that simple.

You see, hearts can be divided.

I’ve got bits of my heart all over the world. People own my heart, places own my heart, animals own my heart — even memories own my heart.

I suspect that memories own an increasingly large part of our hearts as we age.

In the months before my elderly mother passed on, she asked over and over, “Is it time to go home yet? Can I go home now? “ She was clearly torn. Although she was in familiar surroundings with her children, the bits of her heart invested in memories were beginning to outweigh the here and now.

She talked to her father, she talked to her Godmother, and she talked to an old friend. One night, she told my uncle in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re my big brother, Rolphie, but I’m not ready to go yet!” Her conversations and joyful reunions spooked her night nurse, but I found them comforting. I truly felt she had another home, and that she was preparing to go there.

So Where is Home?

The traditional definition of home points to a place — a dwelling or residence or village.

But Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” Home is more a state of mind than any one place. A sense of safety and belonging and familiarity, regardless of where you are.

An etymology dictionary will tell you that the “full range and meaning” of the concept of home “is not covered by any single word.”  That’s true, but I think the early Indo-European root word, tkei, comes close. It means “to lie, to settle down.”

That’s what Mom wanted. To settle down and be done. And that’s what I was pining for on the Jersey Turnpike. To be done with the doing. To rest.

Home is a spiritual and emotional space where you can let down your guard and just be. Even when you’re busy at home, your soul is lying down, at rest.  Familiar routines lower your stress level. Chores and errands aren’t fun, but they are comfortable.

No matter how colorful and exciting Oz seemed to be — what with the dancing Munchkins and talking apple trees and appearing and disappearing witches — from the moment Dorothy arrived, she just wanted to get back to her routine.

For most of us, that familiarity does belong to a place, even though it’s not the place itself that is home. It’s the belonging.

In your home space, people truly know you — they don’t simply tolerate your shortcomings, they smile at them. Their voices plug into well-worn tracks in your brain; their laughter is like an old favorite song.

I am blessed to have more than one of those home spaces.

If I’m blessed with old age as Mom was, I imagine I’ll start feeling less and less at home in any earthly place. Many of those familiar voices and songs of laughter will be just memories.

Then I’ll follow the yellow brick road home for good.

Who, what, and where is your home space?

An interesting related post:
http://james9butler.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/theres-no-place-like-home-in-the-wizard-of-oz-but-what-is-it/

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