There is a novel titled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It was written by American author Thomas Wolfe. I have not read it, but I’ve spent a good deal of time considering the notion of whether or not one actually can return home. This consideration also causes me a bit of pause because I’ve spent a good deal of my life searching for “home” and have written on the theme a lot over the past five years. But the theme for this post is about those places where you either can’t or won’t return to.
Recently I had a conversation with one of my children who was understandably wounded by the fact that I hadn’t been back to see them or their brother since I left the state of California in 2012. “At first I thought you were just putting off coming to see us, but then I thought that maybe because of all that happened to you here you subconsciously don’t want to come back here,” they sagely observed. Dang! That really brought me up short and forced me to examine a possibility that I previously hadn’t considered. Was I deliberately staying away going back to California where I definitely endured a variety of painful experiences?
As I thumbed through all of my excuses for not having returned—I couldn’t afford it, the time was never right, I was too busy—I realized that in fact that’s what they were: excuses with very little relation to the actual reason. It is true that I have been and am busy. It’s true that for a while I couldn’t afford to fly back (though I’ve no doubt I could have figured it out if I’d needed to). And the timing is always going to be a challenge. But as I reviewed my various rationales I am forced to recognize that there is no truly legitimate reason why I haven’t been back except the very plausible one offered me by my insightful offspring. I don’t want to go back.
In my year of struggle (my latest title for 2011, what I used to refer to at the year from hell, the year of living dangerously, and other colorful descriptions), I suffered a great deal of pain and distress as I coped with all that I lost during that year, at the end of 2010, and in the early months of 2012. When I rolled out of California in September of 2012, I did not say aloud, “Goodbye and good riddance, I’m never coming back here again,” but there was a sense of leaving something difficult behind and stretching toward something new, something hopeful. I was headed someplace where family would embrace me and I could begin to heal. So why mess with all that and go back and visit a place I escaped from?
As I’ve pondered this further, I’ve decided that, even with as much work as I’ve done to forgive the people and institutions whom I feel “wronged” me, I still suffer residual pangs of sorrow and loss that I thought I had gotten over. You can forgive, but often can’t forget what happened. And when I am confronted with the memories of what happened, I realize I still have much more work to do in order to forgive those did me harm. Sigh. And so I must go back. At least part of my healing depends on it. More of the pain will wash away and I will leave a bit lighter than I was when I arrived.
The journey of these 40 days is in part about being broken and the subsequent healing. We all have suffered traumas and dramas in our lives. The more painful ones seem to be etched in our DNA and can be triggered by all kinds of sensory experiences—a place, strains of a song we remember from our childhood, smells, sights, etc. that transport us immediately back. The way to get to the healing is often to return to the place where the pain occurred. And so for me for now, that place is California. So I’ll go and I’ll remember, reclaim, and heal. And so it goes.