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.