I recently had the opportunity to visit the town where I was born and spent my first 16 years of life.
It was interesting to go there, with my older sister. We drove round the town, past the house we grew up in, by the High School, past the Junior High I attended, through a couple of parks that were very crucial in my young life.
The streets were narrower than I remembered, distances between things were shorter than I remembered. Yes, there were plenty of changes (it’s been quite a while, after all, since I last saw the place). At one point my brother-in-law was concerned that we were getting lost (driving between the two parks). But, I actually remembered the route, and that it did have to go seemingly out of the way. I found it funny, that after all that time, the pattern was still imprinted in the recesses of my brain.
I got great satisfaction visiting the second park, one of my favorite places in town when I was growing up. And it is still kept up well and worthy of that long-standing affection.
I suppose some people revisit their hometowns when they are seeking to reconnect with their roots, trying to remember things about their core natures that have gotten distracted by life’s events. But this was not part of my little odyssey.
I have what I like to call a “highly retentive memory”. So part of the visit was just a confirmation that memory had not been eroded. Things like the little hollow dip at the end of a hill slope where we frequently went sledding. Yup, the hollow was still there. When sledding, you had to hit it just right, or you’d end up biting your lip from the bounce. So it was nice to find that the world I knew as a child remains pretty much as it was.
I don’t spend a lot of time “looking backward” on my life. I don’t dwell in the past that much, wishing things were as they were “back when”. I remember the events and places and people of my life, in a way that keeps them fresh in my mind. But I have no particular desire to go back and be there again.
Everything that happens to us, changes us in little ways. Or big ways. But mostly little ways.
Now, although many of the events of my childhood were very important in making me the person I am today, I wouldn’t want to go back to being that person that I was then. To sacrifice all that I have picked up since then (both the good and the bad)? No. I remember with pleasure the delight I had in whizzing down that hill in the park on a sled, the wintry air crisp in my lungs. And yes, perhaps I do need to recapture a bit of that spontaneous delight. I plan things a bit too much these days.
It’s just that most of the time, when I hear people talking about looking back on their lives, they seem to be doing it with a sense that they lost something somewhere back there. That they made a wrong choice about something, and if only they could retrieve the choice, their “now” would be much better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’ve made all the right choices in my life. Good heavens, no. And some things, I didn’t have any choice about: like when we moved from Michigan to Texas when I was 16. To me, the looking back is important for acknowledging the moments that made me who I am now.
Because, for the most part, I would rather be who I am now than anyone else. The bad things along with the good. Accepting that I have a temper was important. I don’t get mad very often these days, but I do have a rather strong temper when it is aroused, and admitting that, knowing that, helps me deal with it when it does get triggered. I had to go through some tough things to get to that point. Would I want to do without them? No. The (for want of a better word) unfortunate events of my life have exposed my darker side to myself in ways I could not ignore. There is no value in pretending they did not happen, because they did. But they changed me. Contributed to who I am now.
So I think for me, the journey to the childhood home was more than nostalgia. Perhaps it was a celebration of the ground where God set me on the path of my life. A thanksgiving for such a good place for a beginning. I know what I had was something not everyone is blessed with. And it was refreshing to find that my memory of it was not mistakenly colored with a rosy filter. It’s a smallish city, it has its economic problems and always did. But I think I needed to see it in the here-and-now, as it is. It is not a small town fantasy like Main Street of Disneyland. It’s a Michigan town that’s gone through changes since it was founded, but still continues to be home to plenty of people. It’s where I began, and the places and people of it have left their imprint on me.
And this is the sort of looking back that we should all do from time to time. To remember where we came from, accept it for what it was and what it gave to us (good and bad). And then to continue on the path that God has laid out for us.