Like some too-long-neglected, deep-truth secret, the words slipped into my younger son's description of his new situation and surroundings last night. We were talking on the phone, he from a military air base where he was awaiting shipment to the south, I from my perch at the home my son had known for all of his 19 years. His words were these: "I want to come home."
At about 6 p.m., my younger son had piled into the car with his older brother and his mother, bound for the base and life he had dreamed about and hoped for in preceding months and years. He hadn't liked school. He saw the military as something that fit him in a variety of ways ... something serious, adult, strong and less sissified, perhaps. Something all his own ... his own man.
L-R: Zen students Adam Fisher, Robert Katrin, Carlos Dobryn
and Frederica Murray (kneeling) on Long Island 1975.
Hoping, like anyone, to "come home."
From the home of "here," the home of "there" is always pretty enticing ... what the hell, we've all done it -- chosen the prices to pay only to find that the prices of "there" are never what we expected.
A part of me ached for my son. Like any other human being, I too had felt bereft and abandoned and without known touchstones -- the touchstones of home. I did not wish such confusion and longing on my son, but there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it. I did what I could to buck him up over the phone and yet knew there was really nothing I could say that would close the wound that had been opened. He, like anyone else, would live the dream, nightmares and all. The insouciant might issue a glib assessment that this was all part of "growing up -- nuff said," but growing up and going home are touching to the heart. A part of me ached for my son.
Like the son she had dropped off at the base, my wife too was heading home -- back to the place where she had grown up with brothers and sisters, laughter and tears, touchstones and ham sandwiches. She and my older son dropped off my younger son (a tear in the fabric of "home") and then headed for New Jersey where, today, there will be a wake for my wife's mother, followed by a funeral tomorrow. Her going home was a trip to a land of long-held affections and assumptions. Now the tapestry of assumption was torn and her mother was gone. The home of "here" has become the home of "there," and the "here" of "there" is laced with ... not just nightmares, but, somehow, everything. Handholds had abandoned the scene and the scene was ... well, confusing at a minimum. My wife's mother had, in the words of one of my Zen teachers, "joined the majority," but that observation, while true, seems to lack the truth.
I hung back from the trip to New Jersey. I sincerely wanted to go, to support, to offer what warmth I could in chilly, confusing times. But my fragilities at 72, made such a trip seem counterproductive. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have to pay attention to me, to these homeboy fragilities of fatigue and ache, and asking others to do the same when they have enough on their plates ... it struck me as churlish and stupid. But I am sorry.
Abandoning this home in search of home ... only to find that the handholds have abandoned the one who claimed to abandon.
My son's words pierced me to the bone not just as a father but as a human being. Who wouldn't give quite a lot to "come home," to be at some imagined, overarching and indubitable peace, to utter with relief some "at last!" "Home," a word uttered with lubricated ease, as if "everyone knows" what that means much as they might know to an assumed certainty what "love" is or might be. Something inside knows there is a home and knows there is love ... and the knowing is enough to make the dream of "there" seem plausible from "here."
Isn't it much the same in spiritual adventure, no matter how gussied up it is: Dreaming the dream of some home, some place that is "there," some place for which it is worth abandoning and being abandoned by what is "here?" And yet, with the first tentative steps it is apparent that there is a definite eek factor peeking out from among the dreamy, assured words. "I want to come home" and yet when push comes to shove, where facts replace a dreamy longing, where handholds evaporate ... well, the first thing anyone wants to do is to replace the handholds that have been lost with the handholds yet to be ... the "home" handholds, the "love" handholds, the "peace" handholds. But the new "here" is always accompanied by a new "there." Wondrous dreams always bring with them the stuff of nightmares.
And still, "I want to come home."
I despair with a spitting fury of the self-helpers who have some soothing explanation, some well-rounded and slick-voiced solution or meaning or answer. "You are always at home" or "here is home" ... stick it where the sun don't shine! This is real, this is human, this deserves more care than answers and explanations and beliefs and meanings can offer. Stick it where the sun don't shine, Adam!
Over and over and over again -- living the dream, realizing the nightmarish reality; assuming the "here" will get anyone "there;" despairing of "delusion" and seeking for "enlightenment" ... facing the music played by this homeboy orchestra.
Perhaps the Christians have got it partly right with their imaginative scenario: You've got to drop dead in order to realize your true home, the true at-last of your "at last" home that lies just out of reach ... over "there." But experience teaches that imagination and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride, and a bumpy one at that.
Still, despite the fact that it falls short, perhaps the Christian scenario is partly right in the sense that there is some "death" that is required. It is not the death of the sort that will be memorialized in New Jersey or even the death my younger son must suffer and I must sympathize with. It is a death without loss. A death without gain. A death of handholds and touchstones and "here" and "there."
Such a death may sound spooky from "here," but how spooky could it actually be if you've never actually tried it? How spooky could it be if, as every moment proves, you already have tried it? How could death be an enemy when death is already an indisputable friend?
"I want to come home."
Don't worry about dying then. Learn to die now.
The learning curve could hardly be called a steep one.