Happy birthday and how wonderful it was to talk with you on the phone this morning.
Good question about “home.” Your account of meeting someone on the train, speaking with him for a couple of hours being compared/equated with his daughter, being invited to his home, sharing food with him…there’s something about the recognition of our common humanity, our journey through life and our breaking bread together which reminds us that in a way all of us are separated from that larger place we originate and the longing to return, that home we have in the Cosmos, that home we have in God. As we share some bread, we also share that larger part of our being in common.
And then there is home. Being born in Charlotte, North Carolina, for years and years I equated that origin with my “home.” Although I have no memory of the place except some faded photos. As a young adult, I realized that northern Virginia was my home, strong memories of family there, strong memories of friends, a wonderful place to grow up. As it happens, my life moved on from that place, way led on to way, I have never lived there again. I have enjoyed connecting with my friends from that place.
When my parents separated and divorced in 1987, fifteen years after I’d left home, I was surprised at how devastated I was by their split. Part of my shaken feelings was from my sense that my “home” was being broken apart. As you may recall they were living in Etna, Maine at the time, a place where I’d never lived. We stayed with Cora and Ted a few months and Mandla was born in Bangor, but it was hardly our home. In fact we all looked forward to returning to Mfanefile, South Africa, which was our home.
So, I reckon part of my sense of home is nested in family and in particular Mum and Dad, more so than my siblings. But it is funny how even being in the homes of my siblings, even distant siblings like Jeff and Kevin still makes me feel as though I’m in a home place. So, imagine how I feel with close siblings like Sarah, Amy and Nancy? I think as parents, Ana and I have a strong sense that we offer an emotional home for you and Mandla. We hope that our physical locale is also inviting and comfortable to you, too. I think that you are not as picky about that as Mandla is. But even Mandla knows that when he is with us he’s with two people who know him, accept him and love him in a special way. As the years advance other people will get to know Mandla perhaps better and more intimately than we do– that will happen with you, too– but still, because of our time with you when you were a kid, in those formative years, there’s home with us.
I think the death of parents effects kids because it is the ending of “home,” even grown up “kids” feel a bit of the end of “home” with the death of their parents. When parents die in old age it is easier for the adult kids.
There’s a wonderful story told by Marcus Borg in his book “The Heart of Christianity.” A couple has a daughter, an only child upon whom they dote. When she’s about two and a half they become pregnant with a second child. They share their joy with their daughter. She seems to have mixed feelings. She senses her parents excitement but she has questions about the future with this newcomer to the family, too. As the birth date nears, she makes a request of her parents. She wants to have some time alone with her new sibling. The parents trust their daughter, she’s a good kid, but they wonder what this is all about.
The baby is born, a little brother. Sure enough, shortly after returning from the hospital their daughter reminds them of her request. The parents agree. They put their new born in his crib and leave their daughter with him. They close the door. The baby’s nursery is equipped with one of those intercom systems, Bonnie and Jeff had them for their boys. These parents hurry to their bedroom so they can listen in and if they hear any distress they can help out. They picture their daughter approaching her brother’s crib and then they clearly hear her speak. She says to her brother, “tell me about God, I have almost forgotten.”
Home, a place where we feel known and accepted, a place which we know, are familiar with and feel comfortable. That’s probably why there is tension between couples and their in-laws. Each member of the couple is torn between their new home and their old home. It is hard to see someone you love deeply enter into the old home with their parents and siblings and fit into a world where you don’t fit. Fortunately, I’ve grown a lot in my relationship with Ana and with Al and Dotty. I know that I don’t fit in here the way Ana does, I never will, but that’s okay. I do know where I fit in. I hope that for you and Mandla with your partners that I can include them in a way that is healthy and keeps them feeling comfortable, if not entirely at home.
Well, enough of this. Ana is going to try and reach you by phone again, today. Dotty wants to talk with you. Happy, happy birthday, lots of love. Dad.