You Can’t Go Home Again: Part One

In Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again, author George Webber experiences the painful truth that it’s impossible to return to his hometown and feel “at home.” He has changed, but for the most part, his family and childhood friends are virtually the same. 

Many of us have experienced this same truth in various ways. We discover a bigger world, deeper truths, new mysteries, transforming relationships, and more connections–all of which have enlarged our minds, hearts, and values. And then we go “home” and find that so many of our family members and past acquaintances have not evolved in ways we have. We no longer understand each other. The rupture which divides us brings pain, isolation, and misunderstanding. Even if we say and do little which exposes our transformation, we feel a loneliness and longing for common ground. But such communion does not and cannot come. And we realize that once our minds and hearts have expanded, they can never contract to their original states. We are not and never will be the same. When I have returned to my hometown, I have been asked several times, “Why have you changed?” The question is asked with a tone of irritation if not condemnation. What I want to say in return is, “What I don’t understand is why you haven’t changed.” 

Of course, our families and hometown friends have changed. Humans cannot live on this earth without some degree of adaptation. But perhaps the changes of our original “home” are different from our own. Perhaps those changes have even hardened original prejudices, suspicions, and degrees of self-interest. Perhaps those changes are merely more sophisticated and deceptively acceptable proving the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

For example, the racism of the South in which I grew up is not as harsh and brutal as it was prior to the changes brought about with the civil rights movement. And there certainly are people in the South who have made monumental efforts to move beyond the tragic and evil past of their ancestors. They are to be commended. However, racism in the South and in other parts of the country (including my current residence of Indiana) has found new ways of spreading its poison through gerrymandering, insane legislation at the state and local levels, corrupt police, judicial, and penal systems, sophisticated economic exploitation, and the dumbing down of America by “fake news,” sinister strategies from conservative thinktanks, book-banning, and efforts to distort the curricula taught in public schools. (The “again” in #45’s “Make America Great Again” slogan refers to a past that was cruel, prejudicial, greedy, and violent.)

Memory always comes easier than imagination. Nostalgia can be a pernicious form of memory. It edits the past emphasizing the good while forgetting or minimizing the bad.

Memory always comes easier than imagination. Nostalgia can be a pernicious form of memory. It edits the past emphasizing the good while forgetting or minimizing the bad. Without an expansion of mind and heart, we can remain stuck in a past which never was what we thought it to be. “Mayberry” never existed. Neither did “Little House on the Prairie” or “The Waltons.” “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” were never true to life with all its unsavory aspects. We Americans have a habit of editing our past as we yearn for a return of the good old days. We may mourn the passing of that time, but we must let it go. Such a surrender will allow for a future worthy of our humanity. Such a letting go may help create a home worth inhabiting for all of God’s children. So far, none of us has ever lived in such a “home” in the broadest sense where all belong. 

[I am aware that much of my own evolution has been made possible by the educational opportunities I have enjoyed. Not everyone has the luxury of that experience. But education alone does not bring about the kind of transformation we humans need. One must be open to needed change and willing to undergo the painful transformation required for such growth. Metamorphosis of the mind and heart is not an easy process. I am acutely aware that, in many ways, my own transformation is far from complete. And most of that change has been and will be a gift of grace I must be willing to receive.]

Tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.