I moved this past weekend, and my new digs are in a beautiful neighborhood of summer homes. There is a large clubhouse where lectures and communal meals take place, a pool, tennis courts, and –best of all — every house has a large porch, tailor-made for cocktailing the sun down.
None of this, mind you, will be available to me. I’m here for school, which may or may not involve the occasional cocktail, but definitely will not involve much other recreation. But the neighborhood does make for a lovely morning walk, and some wishful, wistful thinking about being home.
My favorite of the houses looks like it used to be a chapel, made of white wood in a classic T shape with a cupola on top. In the angles formed by the structure, a veritable riot of hydrangeas is currently in bloom; electric blue flowers that press up against the white walls.
Seeing them, I thought of my great-grandmother, whose backyard was lined with gigantic hydrangea bushes on all sides, blue and purple and pink. I used to marvel at the height and colors of her hydrangeas, which made her backyard seem like some sort of enchanted place. Although she died when I was in elementary school, I haven’t seen a hydrangea since that didn’t bring my great grandmother, and her home, immediately to mind.
Speaking of home, everyone but me is there. Father Dave the Miracle Dog, who loved every minute of his mountain-top sojourn with our friends (both human and canine), has been reunited with his original pack, and has had to be restrained from barreling into the water on a daily basis (he still has stitches). I mentioned to one of my professors — a priest — the other day that being mauled by a bear seems to have given Dave a new lease on life, and she laughed.
“Do you think he saw Doggy Jesus?” she said. “Maybe he went to heaven and Doggy Jesus said it wasn’t his time, so he came back and now is living fearlessly.”
This led us to a conversation about the “heaven and back” genre of memoir that was popular in the past ten years. [Editorial note: this particular professor, who is brilliant and kind and a personal favorite, is known for going off-topic in pursuit of any interesting idea in her lectures. She knows she does this, and will often preface the digression by exclaiming, Oh look, a rabbit! so that you know we’re about to bunny-trail off topic and can stop taking notes and just listen. Not all professors are so helpful.]
Remember the slew of books that came out about heaven? For awhile there, it seemed like people were dropping dead all over the place, having a fantastic holiday in the heavenly realm, and coming back, Lazarus-like, to pen a bestseller before embarking on a book tour. An aspiring author could not have been blamed for wishing to have his own death experience, if only for sales and Amazon ratings. (As far as I can tell, however, these books didn’t generally lead to multi-book contracts. It’s hard to imagine what the second book would be about…My Recent Fender Bender and Subsequent Ten Hour ER Visit isn’t going to rocket up the charts in quite the same way.)
One of these books was about a 6 year old kid who was badly injured in a car accident and slipped into a coma, before emerging some weeks later with a story about visiting heaven and seeing both God and the devil. Last year he recanted the entire tale; a news story I’d missed. (NPR: Boy didn’t go to heaven)
There seems to be quite a lot festering beneath the surface in this kid’s story. He’s 16 now, and his parents are divorced and he lives with his mom, who claims her former husband was the one who pushed the story to the media (and indeed, dear old dad is listed as co-author), and furthermore, complains that the kid never saw any money from the whole enterprise. Hmmm….I haven’t read any of the heaven & back books, aside from Eben Alexander’s (of which, incidentally, all I remember is worms, wormholes, and barren landscapes. I’m sure there was more to it, but that’s what I remember). It seems that the genre is wearing itself out now, anyway, like vampire sagas.
But back to the subject of home. (Phew! These bunny trails can be exhausting).
I think that what constitutes “home” for us changes all the time. When you’re young, it’s the presence of a parent or sibling, or maybe a pet, or your own room. In college, it’s the place you’ve left behind where they serve food that’s not pizza and expect you to pick your clothes up off the floor and come in at a reasonable hour. When you live overseas, “home” is an entire country, with all of its familiar sights and smells and rules. But time shifts all of that.
At some point,’coming home’ isn’t so much about a certain place; it’s about certain people.
Classes start today, and I’m excited for that. But more than anything, I want to be home.