Smitten with the Mitten

Michigan

Home is a complicated idea, one that gets harder to describe the older I get.

For anyone who has lived in as many places as I have, home becomes more than a place, more than a memory.  Frankly, it’s best left to poetry or literature.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.

As soon as I got off the plane a couple of days ago, having flown to Michigan to see my younger daughter’s graduation, I realized that I was home.  No one had to tell me where I was.  I had to resist the temptation to get down on my knees and kiss the ground.  I had the happy feeling of familiarity.  Not in a street address, but in the smell of the place, the scenery, and of course the people.

I see myself in them – tall, with broad features, not beautiful, except in the way the American West is beautiful (best observed from a distance).  These are people who were bred and born to farm, even though most of them these days have only set foot on a farm once or twice in their lives.  They look sturdy, built for hard work and long hours in the hot sun.  They look as though they have led serious and sober lives.  I know I look that way too, born for the farm.

But home is not just people.  It’s the landscape, the geography.  I’ve seen gorgeous sunsets all over the world, but none has brought tears to my eyes the way a sunset over Lake Michigan can.  Why is that?  It’s the same sun.  I suppose it’s the sense that I’ve been here before, that I’m seeing something I know and can count on.  It’s the sense that this is somehow mine.

I love the sound on an August evening of people up and down the coast of Lake Michigan clapping their hands as the sun disappears over the horizon.  I’m pretty sure I learned praise for God not in church, but by listening to that sound, responding to that beauty, caught up in something too wonderful for words.

I’ve lived most of my life somewhere else, but this still feels like home, this odd-shaped state that looks to some like a mitten.  I’m smitten with the mitten, as some clever marketer has put it.  When I come back to it, as I have most summers, for a couple of weeks at a time, I remember who I am.  I feel restored, as though I needed to be put back together again, as though only one place on earth could possibly do that for me.

You won’t be surprised to know that I think of home as a spiritual thing.  This longing that I feel to be home is really the longing for God.  It’s a longing that all of us have.  It’s a longing, I think, that God has placed within us.  It’s not Michigan that I long for so much as the place where I belong, where I am wanted, where I am loved, where I will spend eternity.

It’s just that this place, this state, is as close as I’m going to get before I die.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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8 Responses to Smitten with the Mitten

  1. Earl May 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Looking forward to my homecoming in about 3 weeks. That same Lake Michigan has been our front yard for many years. We have been in Florida for 26 years now, but Chicago is still home to us. Thanks for sharing.
    Earl

  2. Judy Ackerman May 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    That was beautiful, Doug.
    I could feel the deep emotion coming from your heart that not many people are able to express with their words.

  3. Bruce Fogerty May 4, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    I too grew up in the Grand Rapids area. Graduated from Grand Valley State University & Wyoming Park High School.

    Unfortunately, my emotional connection to Michigan has almost completely dissolved. When I go back to visit family, I feel (and am) very much a tourist, an outsider. I am disconnected. Not because of my family, but because I have no connection anymore to this wonderful, beautiful state. Unfortunately, I have moved on. Wheaton is my (and our family’s) hometown now.

    I wish it was different.

    Doug, it is great you still have such a profound connection to the Great State. I am jealous.

    • Doug May 6, 2013 at 6:45 am #

      Bruce, I now wish we had spent more time talking about our roots. And for what it’s worth, Wheaton is not a bad place to call home.

  4. Duane Kelderman May 4, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    A very thoughtful and moving post, Doug. It took Jeannette and me living in the west for five years to realize that we were midwesterners. It’s hard to put words to what that means for us. Your post goes a long way to describing the same feelings we have about the midwest in general and about western Michigan in particular. Whenever I fly into Grand Rapids, the sight of all those trees and rivers reminds me what I love about what is now our home–Michigan. But I’m still an Iowa Hawkeye fan.

  5. Barbara Balbach May 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    I enjoy reading your blog each time it arrives. They are a welcome mix of thoughtfulness, questioning, humility, and humor. “Smitten with the Mitten” was especially meaningful to me. I grew up on the west side of Michigan (St. Joseph) and the gorgeous sunsets that you described. Having lived in Ann Arbor for the past 43 years, I still think of, and miss, the sunsets…..something I took for granted assuming that everyone had them 🙂

    • Doug May 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      It’s good to hear from you, Barbara! I didn’t know you grew up in St. Joseph. Thanks for the reply.

  6. Bob Sadowski May 13, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    fortuneately for me our Dad moved us out of Detroit when i was 7, so Marathon is my home.

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