Today’s Word from Sheila Weidendorf…
If early 20th century writer, Thomas Wolfe, was correct, “you/we can never go home again.” Of course, we can—geographically-speaking—go anywhere we wish these days, even into the reaches of space itself if we’ve sufficient billions! This oft-quipped adage is taken from a posthumously-published novel that was actually a publisher-edited redaction of another manuscript. Wolfe was not speaking about travel, though. Instead, he was pointing out the limits of memory, of the nostalgic cementing in place of moments past, of the glorification of “the good old days.”
But there are no “good old days;” every age has had its boons AND its banes, its advances and ridiculous stagnations, its contributions to the expansion of our consciousness and the eclipsing of the same. So too in any life: We all can no doubt recall moments sweet and sour in our own trajectories, times of sorrow and times of grace.
And yes, it is altogether too easy in our dualistic minds to cement our perceptions and recollections into the simplistic categories of Good and Bad. It is too easy to either long to return to what we remember as being those Good Old Days or, conversely, to want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater if our Days were Not So Good.
I just spent a week in my native Minnesota, mostly visiting my four Minneapolitan adult children as well as a few good friends from my Minneapolis years. I also went to visit my mother who lives in a special dementia care facility not too far from the small north central Minnesota town where I grew up—so I almost went “home” again….
I wasn’t sure if my mother would recognize me. I haven’t seen her since quite some time before Covid. She spends her waking time wandering mentally in and out of her own childhood—sometimes aware in the present moment and sometimes rather mercifully relieved of awareness. A walking bundle of compacted trauma, I am actually thankful in a way that her Alzheimer’s has taken away some of her memories—the ones that kept her locked for most of her life in a cage of trauma and pain and shame.
And what is trauma? To a great degree, trauma is simply the interpretation of an event—an interpretation that becomes prescriptive rather than descriptive. And unhealed trauma has a pernicious way of getting into our neurons, into our unconscious thought patterns and even into our DNA and is carried through generations unless we can stop it in its path and create new circuitry in our awareness, our self-perception, establish new behaviors and thus new stories NOT originating from the old trauma trails running amuck in our subconscious.
My mother DID recognize me, even though she is legally—if not completely—blind. Her face lit up as she called me by my name. Then she fell into sobbing as her mind retreated into other spaces for a time. I held her, just as I have held each of my children when disconsolate. She would return to the present moment, then retreat. It was beautiful, and terrible, all at the same time.
I realize that my task here is generally to explore music in these missives—to bring music and meaning and maybe a little grace to the present moment. As I write tonight, I am weary from traveling, weary from the journey and from the emotionally-charged content of my trip. I am perhaps too weary to connect the musical and personal and theological dots in a sufficiently cogent way this week!
But I do want to convey this: We cannot really go home, as what WAS home does not exist. Home is where we are in this moment. Home is in the heart—wherever we go, there we are and that place, that experience, that holy moment must be our home. Where we gather in love—that place is home. Where we see God in one another—that place is home. Where we remember to be thankful for our many blessings—that place is home. Even where and when we deeply acknowledge our sorrows and perhaps learn to lay those burdens down—that place is home. And in as much as we are part and parcel of the hand and heart and mind of God—we are ALWAYS home, no matter where we go, no matter our circumstances, no matter our victories OR our follies.
My musical offering this week might seem out of place here. The song is Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers,” a personal favorite of mine. It is an anthem of finding one’s self wherever one goes, like a wildflower sowed in some distant field by the wind, rather than a special varietal cultivated on purpose in a formal garden. Home isn’t a house, after all. Home is found in the wilderness of the heart that longs for God, that reveals the love of God.