“Yea, I shall return with the tide.”
― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Is it tough to admit that emotionally loaded memories of home tempt and tease us? Dear Reader, what do you think? Yes, I know. Your presence is assumed here, hardly something I need to address directly; still, this thorny question invites consideration.
Most of us lead solitary lives to a point, yet, I believe many adults harbor unresolved feelings about their childhood years – the town, the place, the home. Perhaps, many even yearn for the courage or passion to forsake ambitious monetary and career goals, culture and convenience, expert medical care, alluring coffee shops and innovative restaurants, even tempting French pastries, to return to their planetary roots.
And in the aftermath of a crushing pandemic that caused a fair number of us to question our priorities, values, and lifestyles, it’s an opportune time to take a fresh look at this age-old notion of “going home,” and how this idea, in its fantasy-like way, toys with us – admittedly, how it permeates my thoughts, and possibly yours.
Do we wish to recapture our innocence via a vague, emotionally charged landscape that feels incomplete, or sadly lost, or could our motivations be curiously straightforward? Think about it. The sheer complexity and speed of daily life can overwhelm and exhaust us; an escape – most any kind – is tempting.
As a kid, for instance, rice was ordinary white rice. To the exclusion of basmati, jasmine, red or black, sprouted, organic, Arborio, sushi, or any other popular variety, without fail that’s what my mother served. Likewise, apples, as I knew them, were either ripe or still green and rock hard. Today, we sift and sort through an endless number of choices, but
has it really added to our quality of life?
Image by Melissa Askew from Unsplash
As a young girl, life was refreshingly simple. Apples dangled from bountiful trees in my grandmother’s yard. But Anna didn’t spray chemicals on them, so they were wormy or bruised from falling to the ground during thunderstorms. None of this phased me or my friends. Standing tall at a cluttered counter in her cozy 1940s kitchen, we exorcised the suspicious spots, and after a quick sprinkle of salt, devoured those apples like candy.
So, for me, like many others, childhood, that treasured collection of formative years, was a uniquely alluring experience that continues to haunt me with its mesmerizing low key, day-by-day quality. Of course the intricate world of adulthood ushered in a new terrain. While envisioning a career path and launching mature relationships, I recall the weight of competing choices and emergent responsibilities. Fear versus courage framed the moment for me, as my rather naïve heart and mind grappled with adult realities.
What if things go awry – painful setbacks linked to poor judgment, immature goals, or scattered thoughts that won’t come into focus? What if I make major mistakes?
Like dipping into cold, dark ocean waters that threatened to absorb me, I recall how my worries seemed to multiply, how imperceptibly my anxiety deepened and infiltrated my sleep, and I realized that uncertainty was at the helm. Independence can be intoxicating, empowering, but substantial personal growth, frequently resisted or delayed, must fuel and support it. We all know the pressure; it’s inherent to the process.
But yes, as expected, I navigated my twenties and thirties with a degree of aplomb, and decided that life, after all, was mostly manageable, even rewarding. I took a few risks – some wise, others questionable – as a flurry of years moved through me, and danced away. Yet, somewhere in the background, another landscape, another time, almost in a sneaky, sinister way, always lurked, finally calling out to me in neon lights.
Remember when life was simpler, easier – mostly fun, just doing stuff with friends? Don’t you miss those easygoing times when sunny summer days meant everything?
Wondering if this strangely insistent energy from the past should be ignored, quietly acknowledged, or somehow managed, I didn’t know if I should succumb, pack my bags, disrupt my life, and catch the next plane back to my hometown, or do nothing at all.
Surely my desire will pass, I reasoned, even as this unsolicited inner nudge grew more persistent, more unreasonable. And eventually I wondered what had happened to my momentum, my drive, as this eerie dance with time gained traction, and I felt forced to seriously question my commitments and life direction. I know I asked myself a hundred times a day why this was happening now.
Intuitively, though, I realized this curious emotional tug wasn’t entirely realistic. While the past can feel alive in us, it’s not “alive” anywhere else, so I told myself that chasing such feelings must be pure folly. Yet, is it possible that some of us are wise enough to notice (and admit) how far we’ve strayed from our early days? Maybe we realized that undue complexity and excessive stress weren’t serving us well.
Even though most of us have a reasonably clear idea how we landed in our fully-formed adult lives – a youthful eagerness to grow, learn, and experience new worlds pushing us to expand and refine ambitious hopes, dreams – simultaneously, we incorporated layers of useless clutter into increasingly hectic lifestyles. Not always, but usually. Less is more, that apt and popular concept, hadn’t really caught up to us yet, I guess.
Admittedly, I’m certain I was slightly oblivious to the architecture of my own life in the
midst of raising children and establishing a career. But the tendency to create patterns
of complexity, accumulation, and stress, are exacerbated when we’re not mindful—when we’re living out our days without being fully aware of our true intentions and motives.
The fierce pull of the past, in other words, can be seriously instructive. Reminding us we don’t need all of the things we assume are important, and gently pointing out to us that we aren’t fulfilled or engaged by the societal roles and senseless limitations that have crept into our lives, the early years – powerful memories of time and place and people – can serve as a lifesaving catalyst for meaningful reflection.
So when the radically different worlds of childhood and adulthood finally collide, don’t be surprised if managing this predictable psychic crash makes you feel slightly dizzy. But while trying to make sense of the internal crash site – acknowledging and sifting through notable differences in your present self with the person you’ve become – you may decide to do more than resist, delay, strategize, or turn away. If you allow it, in fact, resistance may gradually dissipate, as you dare to admit that you genuinely miss the simplicity, the joy, of bygone days, and not surprisingly, you may return with the tide.
Will it be at all the same? Not a chance. But a certain transformation, a poetic blending of past and present, will occur. An insightful process I’ve subjected myself to on more than one occasion, I can only say that if you notice a strong urge to return to a place you still call home, honor it. Whenever possible, honor it. The real reasons – rewards and unexpected challenges – will be revealed over time, and if it feels like you’re in the midst of a unique and powerful experience, it’s bound to be one you know and don’t know.
And, by chance, as things evolve, should you detect a certain happiness, a subtle sense of completion and purpose, explore it – savor it. Intangible rewards confirming the wisdom of a difficult choice are gifts like no other.