Je me souviens -- but can we go back there?

Posted 07.02.12

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | A drive home from work is a great place to think. My route has little traffic and less stress -- perfect. This isn't about relaxation. Writing an editorial requires some thought and plenty of quiet, so I roll the window down and head out of town, with a pad of paper and pen on the seat beside me. Listening to music is a great editorial launch pad; I can stop the CD and think about the lyrics or follow a thought or a mood the music has stimulated.

Earlier this week I was listening to Leonard Cohen's new CD, particularly his first song, "Going Home." The title reminds me of one of my youthful favourites, the novel, You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe. Another CD has a tune that contains the lines, about going home, "You can go back . . . but you can't go back all the way" (Dylan).

All this about going home leads to a couple of grand conclusions. One, that we can and should create our "home" no matter where we are. It's less about trying to recapture our youth and more about creating an environment, a sense of security, warmth, and growth -- plus our duties -- that gives us the comfort and support that we associate with home. "We already are home,", we could tell Thomas Wolfe, no matter where we might be.

Or another conclusion we might draw is that it is better to build the strengths, supports, and nurturing we associate with home within ourselves. We can cultivate a sense of self-confidence and of being at ease within our own skins so that we don't have to go, or even dream about going, "home." Home is where the heart is (and the backside, legs, and shoulders). We are at home.

It's a lifetime accomplishment to reach either of these states of being, and either are worth aspiring to, rather than the usual substitutes to going back to our youth -- the daily diversions, dramas and substitutions with which we camouflage our lives. Very few of us are able to achieve either of these states of "home."

Leonard Cohen no doubt refers to home in a Buddhist sense, a magical state outside time, in which the everyday world with all its worries and problems fades before a bigger picture.

Wolfe and Dylan are more mundane about going home. I understand them to be referring specifically to going back to our youth, going back in time. And of course who can go back in time? We have no time machines, and couldn't operate one if we had it.

And that explains why we can't go back home: home isn't merely a place, a house, or even our parents, now white-haired and quieter than we remember them. We can return to those things, but they are the relics and footprints of home. Home to most of us means being young, being in a simpler time, when the world was easier to understand.

This isn't about nostalgia, it is about the nature of time. We can't go back because time tells us things have to happen. And things happening mean change. And change alters us and all who we grew up with; it means, for better or worse, that we will never be as we once were. This is worth thinking about, driving along.

We can go back, but we can't go back all the way. Merely because of time and what it does. It passes.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.12