For the first time in a really long time, I feel as if I have no words.
Recent regional, national and world events aside, my family has been in a state of upheaval. We unmoored ourselves at the beginning of September from what we once thought was our forever home in Vancouver, Washington, and now are setting up house in my hometown in Minnesota, the place of so many of my memories and dreams, the place against which I measure all others.
It is surreal to be making a home in the place I spent most of my first eighteen years, the place I have lived away from for twenty-eight of the past thirty-three years, the place that has become a summer vacation destination. (The fact that I think of it as “the place I have lived away from” probably reveals how deeply embedded it is in my psyche.)
Now I live less than a mile from where I started out, in a house that vaguely resembles the one I grew up in. My family goes on bike rides and urban hikes past my elementary school, through neighborhoods where I used to go to birthday and slumber parties, past houses and buildings where I studied piano and violin and the German language. Memories flood back:
- Cross-country skiing in the park when I was too little for actual ski poles, stabbing at the snow with wooden dowels, trying to keep up with my parents.
- Bicycle rides that took my friends and me all over the city, observing turtles and birds and people, stopping for Wendy’s Frosties and fries before returning home for supper.
- Trick-or-treating, I as a boxer (Dad’s bathrobe and Mom’s makeup-black eye) and my friend as a television set (cardboard box and tinfoil antenna-hat), older bullies in a car throwing a cherry bomb at us.
- The awful winter when two of my elementary school classmates lost family members, and I learned how unpredictable and unforgiving life can be.
I revel in the fond memories and belatedly process the sad ones, surprised at how fresh they still feel. And I watch the faces of those I pass on the street, feeling a sense of familiarity with many of them — and sometimes find in them old friends and acquaintances, like the former co-worker who recognized me from behind (“Sarah?”) as I wandered through Menards, our local home improvement store. (“You have a distinctive look,” he explained.)
From that early summer day in Washington when we decided to move “home” to our first days back here, in Minnesota, the geese have been our companions. They soared over us, calling, in flocks of three, flocks of many and as solo fliers, as if echoing our situation, their homing instincts illustrating in some way our own. Once we reached a certain age and stage … or was it once we encountered the crisis of a pandemic, racial unrest and unpredictable leadership? … we could not help but feel the magnetic pull of what once was most familiar — our families, our People, our place on the flat prairie — and it seemed the most natural, most predictable act in the world to embark on the hell that is packing up an established home, saying farewell to our West Coast friends and “framily” and setting ourselves up to create something new but familiar half a continent away.
So OK, I realize now I do have some words for what has been happening, but organizing them is a whole other thing. This is the best I can do. If you’re reading this in Washington and Oregon, I’m probably missing you terribly (and I’m so sorry about the awful wildfires and smoke). If you’re reading this in Minnesota or North Dakota, I’m delighted to be back with you (but why didn’t you tell me how bad the mosquitoes are this year?).
Not long ago, I heard Ram Dass’ quote, that “We’re all just walking each other home.” And that, in some ways, describes how this move has felt to me. As we prepared to return home to our extended family, we sold our house to a family who was relocating from California to return home to their family in Vancouver. I began to wonder whether our move is part of a whole chain of families returning to the places where we have always belonged, so in these times we can be with those we have always belonged to.
Wherever you are, my prayer is that you are staying well and hopeful in this very strange time, and that wherever you are feels like home.
From “The Same Loon” e-newsletter (Sept. 24, 2020). Sign up for future issues of my every-other-week e-newsletter here. “The Same Loon,” shares ideas, updates about my writing and events, good reads and writing prompts and tips to help you tell your own story.