So says the title of the novel by Thomas Wolfe, which I read a few chapters of before turning away in despair because the whole thing was perhaps great literature but also a mighty heap of Depressing, as much great literature seems to be.
Wolfe was talking about his own life, in reference to his home, the exact town where I now live. In fitting detail, this weekend I left this very town that I do call home in many ways, to re-visit once again the one and only place that will ever completely be home to me.
I hadn't visited for a years, because for I while I thought I couldn't go home again, and for a while, the people who had made it home were gone mostly gone too. Going home again reminded me constantly of how much I still wanted home back and couldn't have it and I often made myself miserable by trying to live in the past, yet at the same time reminded me of how much I had changed since leaving and so didn't feel completely compatible with the very place I loved so much. I thought I'd changed in a way that made going home again impossible.
And hell, I don't want to live there now, because even though it is home, all of the conditions that made that one house, that one street, that one community of people, so special to me have changed as significantly as I have. The people are also away living their own lives, the house isn't available even if I would want it, the woods have been cleared to make way for more houses.
I'm mostly happy with how much I have changed into my life since leaving, because even though I hated to be torn away from home and have no reason to think I would not also have loved the person I would have been if I could have stayed--I've had some great experiences because I had to leave, and I don't suppose I would give those up--as if I have a choice anyway.
I really am unwilling to forget how much an important part of me home has been--and although sometimes it seems to approach it, I don't really think that is living unhealthily in the past. Even though leaving was once terrible and the intensity to which I held on to home after I left wasn't as healthy as if I had left myself happily open to new experiences right away upon leaving, I clung to home because I knew how to recognize a beautiful, wonderful, happy, healthy thing when I had it. Now I can recognize many other great things that have happened since and because of leaving, yet if I still sometimes hold up my current life to the yardstick of that blissfully happy childhood, that's because I know how whole a person my childhood community made me feel, and I understand how strongly my identity has been formed by daring to love the places and people I grew up with. I love them still, and in many ways, that love has always defined me, and I think helps me define positively who I am today. I know what satisfies me on a deepest level: and that place and people in it. Community. I suppose it is frustrating right now when I don't know how to use what's in front of me to achieve a present that fulfills those needs and maybe that's "living in the past" in disguise--but I know what it looks like when they are met, and I have to believe that I've got plenty of ability to recognize opportunity and create what will work, because hey, I had it before.
Plus, friends with whom you've laughed until you've cried, you've stormed imaginary and maybe real castles, you've weathered traumas and shared joys, they are an absolutely essential part of life, and I still have them. The ones from home, I mean, as well as all the ones I made since leaving home. I achieved that for many years after I left and let it fall away for a while very recently--but I hope now to keep having them in my life as they are today, and this weekend I renewed that commitment. I recognized the value of friendship at age thirteen (and was subsequently and I think justifiably angry when my parents tried to make me think people were simply replaceable) and it is still one of my greatest joys today. For better or for worse that is the introvert's strength and weakness, or at least it is mine: keeping alive the bonds between the people I've bonded with, even if that's less people than the endless stream of friends available to the social butterfly.
When you go home, everything that has happened in between to put so much mental distance between your present and that idealized time in the past falls completely away.