There is a commercial showing nowadays featuring Matthew McConaughey driving a certain car the advertiser is trying to sell. In the ad, McConaughey tells his imaginary passenger that some say you can’t go home again, but it’s not true. You need to do so, he counsels, to find out where you’ve been so that you can figure out where you’re going. That is the counterpoint to the advice of Thomas Wolfe who wrote You Can’t Go Home Again.
I think they are both right. You can return to where you grew up (per McConaughey), the place of your roots, to your history. But, when you do you will not find what you left behind (per Wolfe). You’ve changed. So has the place you used to call “home.”
Each summer I take a day and drive to Asheboro, NC. I grew up there. I attended Lindley Park Elementary School, Asheboro Middle High and then Asheboro Senior High. I drive by all three places every summer and remember. The buildings are still there. So are the ball fields where we would go at recess or for our Little League games. I always simply drive by. I never go in. But, if I did, the halls and rooms would probably be pretty much unchanged. The difference, however, would be the faces. The friends I knew are no longer there. The teachers, for the most part, are no longer alive. I can go back to the place, but not to what made it “home” for me.
Each summer I drive by the house where I lived. There are sacred spots in the back yard: a small grave for a beloved dog (probably the new owners mow over that spot with no idea anything special is beneath their feet), the place where my basketball goal used to stand (and where I would shoot hoops every day, even in the rain or snow), the spot where the blackberry vines used to grow (where Mom and I would pick them so she could bake cobbler for dinner), the former screened-in porch, now bricked-over (where my parents and I would spend summer evenings after dinner, just being family), the cul-de-sac behind the house (which used to be woods where my friends and I built tree-houses), the yard I used to mow, the trees I used to climb, the spot where Dad would stand with me at night and point out and explain the constellations overhead. All that is still there, but I never go inside. It was once our home, but now it is someone else’s place to enter and enjoy. And even if I knocked upon those strangers’ doors, and even if they invited me in, Mom and Dad would no longer be there. The kids with whom I grew up would no longer gather after homework to play catch and daydream about the big world beyond our small town.
Why do we return to the spots where our memories linger? Maybe because subconsciously we hope that a miracle will one day occur … and we will round a corner and for a moment, just for a brief and blessed moment, the clock will reverse... and standing before us will be old friends, suddenly young again, and parents and teachers and pets and tree-houses and ball fields and simpler times. And, if only for a moment, we will be back. But this time we will know what we did not know then – how good and innocent it was, and how quickly it would all pass. But, maybe Wolfe was correct. We can return to the place, but not to the world we left behind, for it is no longer there. But, maybe McConaughey is also correct. Maybe that world exists within our minds, our souls, our memories. And maybe that means that we can return, even if we are half a world away. The influence and impact of our yesterdays remains within us.
All that, I think, challenges us to do now what we perhaps did not fully do when we were too young: to live in this moment, to drink each drop of joy and meaning and relationship that is ours this day, for the time will come when we look back on this time and age and wish it could be again. Bottom line: Let’s not miss this day, this time, these loves and joys. Instead, let’s live each day aware of how precious and beautiful it is, so that the memories we make now will be worth recalling in the years yet to come.