coming home

Thomas Wolfe wrote a book once called “You Can’t Go Home Again.” His editor, Edward Aswell, published it after Wolfe died in 1940, when Aswell found a manuscript called “The October Fair.” I haven’t read the book in years, but a passage of it stayed with me:

He had learned some of the things that every man must find out for himself, and he had found out about them as one has to find out–through error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood and his own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and confused. Each thing he learned was so simple and obvious, once he grasped it, that he wondered why he had not always known it. And what had he learned? A philosopher would not think it much, perhaps, and yet in a simple human way it was a good deal. Just by living, by making the thousand little daily choices that his whole complex of heredity, environment, and conscious thought, and deep emotion had driven him to make, and by taking the consequences, he had learned that he could not eat his cake and have it, too. He had learned that in spite of his strange body, so much off scale that it had often made him think himself a creature set apart, he was still the son and brother of all men living. He had learned that he could not devour the earth, that he must know and accept his limitations. He realized that much of his torment of the years past had been self-inflicted, and an inevitable part of growing up. And, most important of all for one who had taken so long to grow up, he thought he had learned not to be the slave of his emotions.

Even sixteen years ago, this resonated with me, though I didn’t understand why.  After being away from my hometown for basically a decade, it makes sense now:

For a long time, I concerned myself with the opinions of others regarding how I lived. My appearance, my ideas and ideals, my location, my job, financial status, relationship status, even where I grew up. As I became more worried about these things, I became more insecure and unaware of who I actually WAS and more concerned with how people SAW me. Eventually, I realized that while some people’s opinions of me matter more than others (family, inner circle), none of them needed to matter more than mine. And mine, for lack of a better word, sucked. I’d found myself in a dead-end job that paid horribly and left me feeling exhausted and used, with most of my close friends off living life elsewhere. Looking in the mirror was a challenge. A friend told me it was time to crawl out of the pit, and even helped me do it. No, I’m not “better” now, but it’s a start. The new job doesn’t suck, and I may even stay with it for a while. I’ve met new people who build me up and show me genuine kindness and concern. And old friends are becoming good friends again.

But my hometown isn’t the shining city on a hill that I believed it was when I was young. My former pastor, Ron Martoia, once brought up the “(insert important ending thing here) won’t be the same again” cliche. And then he said that nothing is ever the same. Life’s only consistent is change, and I knew that when I drove west toward California, Jackson would be different when I got back, either to live or to visit. It’s changed a lot since then, and that’ll continue.

Coming back here has also led me to face some of the demons I left here. If you come from a town like this, you’re bound to have history with certain people and places, and whether they’re here or not, the void shouts at you just the same. Part of growing up and discovering yourself is learning how to let go of the things that no longer serve your life as helpful, constructive, or uplifting. It’s learning to ignore the ghosts of days gone by that make life easier as we get older. And sometimes, the ghosts present themselves as good and special, when they’re really just more of the same. It’s hard to ignore those, but if you pay attention, you’ll see what they really are: desperate attempts by your own darkness to return to the comfort and ease of the old you, while leaving the possibilities of who you are NOW to wait standing for a train that will never come.

English science-fiction writer Douglas Adams once wrote, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be to be.” I do not pretend to understand the jagged path of my life, but with every switchback turn of this long strange trip, the road becomes a little more clear.


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