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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Coming Home

I’ve come back to my hometown for Christmas in my 63rd year.

The stereo is playing Bing Crosby; nostalgia is sought for as some kind of assurance that everything will return the past for a short while, if only in the way we feel.

Some would quickly return to the safety of the days evoked by the music, feeling that there must be some refuge from the excruciating pain of the present and the inevitable horror waiting them in the future. Still, death, ‘the king of terrors’, waits patiently. We feel it in our bones, and see it in the faces around us framed with gray hair, wrinkles, pain relying on a timetable to take the daily, ever growing, allotment of pills.

The underlying unspoken thought is of who will be here next year for Christmas and who will be missing. It is a cultural imperative to be filled with angst over this. The thought of death in our culture is couched in language designed to fill us with fear.

As far as I can tell the reasons for fear resides in the way in which we understand ourselves as persons. I have the feeling, in fact I’m fairly convinced, this fear is the result of the misunderstanding of the nature of the human being and that the fear is unnecessary because it is based on a misunderstanding concerning what and who they are.

I’m sitting in PDX with 4 hours to wait, my mother born in 1907 on this date. I’m left to figure out what it means and it is difficult because the explanations handed down to me have not made any sense.

I have begun the 63rd year of my life in a different place than I began my first and subsequent 62 years. Every other year began and ended in the same place; Cayuga County New York. This year I am in Oregon waiting in Portland for flights to Atlanta, Cincinnati, and finally Syracuse. I’m returning to New York for the holidays. I no longer think of it as home.


Teenagers in the nearly empty terminal with time on their hands and energy to release ‘moon walk’ back and forth on the ‘people mover’. I watch from the perimeter wondering what I will find when I get to my destination.

What does it mean to be going home? What does home mean? Who are you? What am I? What does all this living business mean? These are the questions on my mind tonight as I watch people with colored lights in their eyes and in their memories passing me. I have an answer that that satisfies me, or perhaps I have simply found another way to approach the questions. Answers, I have found, continue to change.

Ordinarily people don’t ask these questions, they accept the answers and explanations given them because it provides an entire scenario ready to be believed. They have built a world from it.

In Cincinnati two young couples stand in the main aisle directly in front of me. A long haired boy and girl and a boy in camouflage with a crew cut, his face adorned with a forced smile in an attempt to disguise his emotions. His arm is around a young heavyset girl as photographs are taken with cell phone cameras. None of the group appears old enough to buy a beer. The heavyset girl is unable to hide her sorrow and is finally overtaken by tears throwing her arms around the camouflaged boy while the other two continue to take pictures. When it’s time to board three leave together, the fourth, in camouflage, stays behind.

The boy in camouflage boards the same plane I do for Syracuse. As he passes my seat I see four letters on a strip over his pocket. They spell ‘Fink’. It is obvious to me he is going far away from home for Christmas. I can only imagine how he feels. I wonder if he knows he’s being used and that his life has only a very narrowly defined value in the minds and contexts of those who are sending him away from home for Christmas.

A fortyish woman in jeans, pretty but tired, with three teenagers in tow explains to them that they will be able to get on the plane as she hands each a snack and a ticket. They appear weary too, but not as weary as their mother.


In New York my son meets me. He loves me and I see it in his eyes and feel it in my heart. My grandchildren hug me at my other son’s house. I marvel at how well they have been raised and how they are growing.

My sister’s family has partially arrived. Those from Australia on an around the world trip get here first. Her eldest daughter with her boyfriend have been stuck almost a week in Paris due to snow in Philadelphia. They arrive minus three pieces of luggage that are still in Luxembourg.

My brother’s family is continuing to arrive from Florida, Georgia, California, Maryland and New York. It appears that the offspring of my mother and father have produced 50 or so additional offspring and connecting nodes. Some I have never seen before. This is the way it is supposed to be; we expand, multiply and become diverse; strengthening the human race by diversity. In a hundred years we will have expanded even more having spent our strength and become memories to be recalled in conversations over photographs on Christmas Eve.

No one wants to talk about death even though it is in everyone’s thoughts as we look at those around us with wrinkles and pain who have become mere shadows of the images in our minds from years gone by. Most are waiting for Jesus to come and take them home. I suppose I am too if I can be allowed to understand it in my own way.

For better or for worse we are a religious family. Most if not all have broken the restraints of the faith handed to them by their parents in order to forge a belief that makes sense to them. All our lives have changed and are changing. Thank God for that.

A man can only be home when he is at peace with himself. I am finally home despite the distance from the place of my birth.

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A practitioner of the art of living with the intent of learning how to die without fear.