Coming home to a place I’ve never been before

I was enjoying my walk and had stopped to wonder about the bird perched on the power line. The falling snow swirled all around us. Even against the strong wind, the bird held its place. The few inches of snow already on the ground were enough that there was no traffic. In the snowy world in front of me, the two of us were alone. There was a feeling of timelessness. 

I suddenly heard a voice from somewhere behind saying, “Hey there.” I turned to see a man some distance behind me waving at me and calling out for me to wait for him. He asked me where the post office was. As he headed off, I marveled at his faith in Providence. Looking down at my new snow sneakers and remembering that morning’s sudden onset of cabin fever, I smiled as I caught a glimpse of God’s intertwined plans for us humans. 

When I was a teen-ager, I listened to the John Denver song, “Rocky Mountain High.” I wondered what it meant to come home to a place where one had never been before. To me, the words suggested journey to, and arrival at, a destination. My young mind imagined newlyweds crossing the threshold into a new home. I also thought maybe that is what it is like to enter Heaven. 

As a young adult, my appreciation of that phrase grew as I learned to recognize that inner feeling of peace associated with times I recognized as feeling or being at home. Once, after a particularly long and tiring day as a graduate student, I strongly felt the coming home from the world to my special place as I entered my apartment. After that, I understood the refuge and recharging of batteries aspects of home. Even so, I occasionally would hear the song. The mystery behind the words continued to intrigue me.

Eventually the idea of a tangible physical place as destination gave way to the understanding of life experiences as coming home events. I have heard others discuss traveling to exotic places, finding that sense of community at their work, feeling comfortable with a promotion and its concurrent responsibilities, and even the search within to find the inner self as ways of coming home to a place one has never been before. 

An important aspect about being able to experience journey as a homecoming is the ability to take things slowly. Seneca says, “The primary sign of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in any one place and linger in his own company.” Lingering is important because it allows one to better examine the surrounding world. In addition, one’s focus is on others as well as on oneself. Lingering also allows the mind to take time to sort and characterize feelings. This allows one to recognize that feeling of inner peace that accompanies being at home. 

This winter my car was in the shop for a while. In addition to the snowy walk described above, I walked a number of other times where I would usually have driven. That timelessness or feeling detached from time restraints was a gift and a reminder of how one can choose to walk the journey. I vividly remember one morning waiting in line. For the first 10 minutes or so the only times the line moved was when people gave up and left. A number of people were visibly disturbed and irritable. To be honest, for me patience is a virtue that is there some days, but not others. I wanted my errand done. I wished to be somewhere else. By then I had my car back. I, too, could have left to come back another time. Yet, that day I was conscious of a great feeling of inner peace. I enjoyed the conversations I had with an older woman and with the young mother directly behind me in line. Depending on one’s inner perspective that mother’s two young girls were either an annoyance or wonderful to meet. 

That day, I realized a new facet of understanding the mystery behind the words of coming home to a place one has never been before. Amazingly, one can choose to live life feeling this way each moment of the journey. Though the world may see only a kind and calm person, inside one has that deep feeling of peace that is found in choosing to walk in and share God’s love. I believe this is what Mary Oliver means when she says, “My work is loving the world.”

St. Paul wrote, “What no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and has not entered into heart of man, what God has prepared for those loving Him” (1 Cor 2:9). Let the journey continue and let each of us always choose to live at home each and every step of the way. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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