Thursday, November 8, 2007

where the heart is

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"Journeys ended
Journeys begun:
To go where we have never been;
To be beyond our past."

~ Monks of Weston Priory, Spirit Alive

Embarking still on another transition, along this unfolding journey, I have just moved from my home of many years. There surely was no great distance involved, but anyone who has packed decades of their belongings and vacated their living space, can understand that geography carries a separate impact from that of leaving behind the stable place called home. And this implication takes so many forms in these times. When I completed graduate school, I left the place of employment at which I hard-worked a living for nearly 13 grueling years. In such long stretches of time, places can become deeply personalized- and even internalized. Places that are thoroughly intertwined with our days become the arenas in which major parts of our lives are staged. At that job, I saw a life’s spectrum of individuals, situations, and emotions, all in the intensity of human lives engaged in stressed employment. The day I carried out the last of my personal effects from "my" studio space, I filled my car with supplies, tools, and manuals- along with cases of music discs, wall decorations, and coffee cups. When I did that last once-over, before turning off the lights, the bare shell of a space had the ghostly look of a lifeless cavern. I subtly realized how humanity combined with ingenuity can animate an ordinary space, making it into a place which emanates creativity and color, as a soul inhabits a body.

The home I’ve inhabited and cherished for nearly twenty-two years is now in the past. Only months out of college, I carried those first crated bundles of books up the steep narrow stairs and through the door. The place was barely affordable, but minutes by bicycle from work. Over the years, those three modest rooms in the Victorian mansard became something equivalent to a favorite pair of shoes: not the flashiest, but comfy and versatile enough to be favored despite its flaws. Convenient and hospitable. And in various combinations of my circumstances changing, and my challenges to transform my own life, I would reshape my home in numerous ways. That little configuration of rooms and nooks was a quiet study and a sanctuary, as well as a place of celebration and dinner parties. And indeed, aloneness and grieving. My long sojourns with the Benedictine monks in Vermont taught me to transfigure a place of desolation into a venue of friendship and warmth. On one of my countless retreats at Weston, Brother Philip told me that "it isn’t enough to say welcome; you must be welcome." Such thoughts bring us to realize the distinction between place and presence.

Throughout these years, there have been numerous times for me to reflect upon the definition of home. What is home, and where is home? Is this something that can be provided, or withheld, or even created anywhere? An ancient monastic saying exhorts the seeker to "carry your cell with you, wherever you go." This surely addresses our contemporary nomadic lives, and how families tend to scatter between chasms of large distances. Clearly the most joyful recollections about my home are connected to how it became a place of gathering and kindredship, and doubtlessly that will continue in the new place. When contemplatives were enjoined to set forth with their "cells," my understanding is that it was to express that they should wear their spirit of welcome and compassion in all places and at all times. Yes, Spirit transcends space.

And now life evolves still further. Recent years have seen increments of transition, much of it intellectual and spiritual. Transmuting perspectives. Now there is a physical transference. In those instances when I’ve noticed myself dragging my own absurd self, kicking and screaming, into all that is good about new life, I’ve had to recall the intertwined nature of stress and turning-points. Now it is useful to be reminded that just as we find our footing, after welcoming gifts into our lives, we must then move those feet some more, even in a seemingly unknowing faith. Admittedly, moving on- whether metaphorically or physically- surfaces the immediate temptation of regretting the benefits we once had, but that is invariably surpassed by the brilliant expanse opening before us. The present and future needn’t be replications of past things which surely pale in comparison to what is yet to be created.

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At home I experienced the full range of emotions-
lost love very painfully,
but found love, and was reassured of the miraculous
(see detail from top of wall, above, in picture below),
with a surpassing strength of hope and gratitude.

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1 comment:

Katie said...

Thank you so much for this post, it touched me in so many ways. I have trouble letting go of many things in my past, both places and people. Change can be so uncomfortable and for me it leaves me longing for anything in my past that feels like home. Unfortunately we have to force ourselves to keep moving so as not to remain stuck in ourselves and in life. I just wonder if I've made the right decisions, if I left something behind that I shouldn't have, and if I am on the right path. I try not to get caught up in all of the "what if's" but it's always been a struggle for me.

Home is my favorite place on earth and such a huge part of my happiness and my serenity in life. If I don't have a place to call home, everything else is sort of just floating around and I'm bumping into it rather than choosing it. I'm not sure if that even makes sense.

Thank you again for your wonderful words. Your writing is so beautiful and truthful and I am just so blessed to be able to read your words.

Your friend,