(I wrote this piece a couple of years ago, for a different blog page, but it resonates with me now, with a bit of new life breathed into it. Having endured the trials of moving and renovations more than we would have cared to these past eighteen months, I’m reminded that “home” is not really a physical place, after all.)
If you have never ridden into the mountains in Silverton, Colorado, on the famed historic Durango-Silverton railroad, treat yourself to it sometime. Having driven our car from California after Jordan’s graduation, with only minimal space for anything besides the four members of our family, we arrived in Durango with only flip flops for our feet… which made for an interesting day in the surprise snow storm, once in Silverton at the top of the mountain. With bare feet flopping (and FREEZING) in the windy weather we all managed to attract a lot of attention. This later paid off in the form of quite a number of Irish coffees from one of the local bartenders as well as the sympathy of a few female conductors on the train who found cozy, inside seating for us, despite the fact that our last-minute tickets were for the cheap seats on the open-sided train car. It was great being back in Colorado, even if it was cold…and even if it still meant another six hours on the road in my little white convertible, squished unmercifully between suitcases, with the circulation to my legs cut off from sitting cross-legged in my seat. Colorado, with its surprise May snowfall looked mighty good, even with frosty feet. We were more than merely on board the train. We were home.
As the clickety-click of the train rumbled on the old rails, my mind wandered to the silent, often-forgotten recesses of my memories. It took me back to the days when I was quite young, when my father would treat me to an annual ride on the train to Market Street Station in Philadelphia, for a Daddy-daughter date at Christmas. My mother would send me off with my wool dress coat, white gloves, Mary Jane patent leather shoes and tights. In the chill of winter, my dad would take me to Wanamaker’s Department Store to have lunch, see “the eagle” (fellow Philly folks will know what this means) and hear the world-famous Wanamaker organ play its Christmas concert while beautiful lights “danced” to a Christmas light show in the lobby of the many-storied department store.
Around the sharp bend of the steep mountain, the antique train’s whistle blew shrilly, jolting me from one memory to another. Now, in my nostalgic mindset, I recalled our old Lionel trains; I pictured my father’s carefully constructed home train platform, with houses, roadside billboards and heavy toy rail cars. I closed my eyes and could almost smell the smoke from the little white pills we would plop into the stack of the black locomotive. I could “feel” the buttons turn beneath my fingers on our old transformer box… not too slowly, or the trains wouldn’t move… not too fast or they’d fly off the track. Belly-down on the floor next to my brother, I would watch the trains go around that track forever. That rusted track sits in a box in storage now. It will never be used again, but I can’t part with it. It brings me “home”, just looking at it.
In the movie Patch Adams, the main character of the same name begins with a poignant soliloquy. He narrates:
“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.”
With the chug of the engine palpably beneath my feet, and the hiss of the steam blowing by my window, I knew about “coming home”… not because of Colorado, really. I looked around at my fellow passengers and didn’t need to know them or their names in order to know that we were each restless hearts, trying to find a way home. They, and the thousands of travelers before us who had ridden these antique rails through the dark wood, had also been through the storms of life… and had weathered them, somehow, in boots or flip flops.
In the middle of some new journeys in my own life, I had, like Patch Adams, indeed, felt as if I had temporarily lost the right path, often feeling my shouts disappearing in the wind. But, when we find that place on our knees to which God brings us, we know we are “home”. When we close our eyes and can feel the hand or the hug or the kiss of those who are no longer even here with us on earth, we know we are “home”. When a smell or a laugh sets up residence in our brain like furniture in a room, we are home. It is, perhaps, at the moment when we acknowledge that “all of life is a coming home” …that the clouds pass, the sun comes out and we are able to see the billboards that have been there all along, pointing the way to peace for us. It may seem like the most unlikely place… (and sometimes, we find a place of “home” with – seemingly – the most unlikely people…) but a map was probably there for the following every step, every clickety-click of the way… had we just followed it, or stopped long enough on our own stubborn and prideful trek to ask for intelligent and wise direction…or had we simply been willing to trust. All of life is a coming home.