“Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement. At any rate, that is how it seemed to young George Webber, who was never so assured of his purpose as when he was going somewhere on a train. And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.” ―Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
I took a short trip to the mountains of North Georgia this past weekend, and I felt some of what Thomas Wolfe surely must have felt when he wrote Look Homeward Angel. Gone was the quiet, peaceful town that I remembered, and in its place was a steady stream of tourists who were buzzing and darting around the shops like bumblebees. As the years pass, I see less and less of the Appalachia that I grew up in—the one that prided itself on being secluded from urban influences…the one that was deeply rooted in folkways, hard work, bluegrass, resiliency, and a deep, abiding love for the land.
Feeling somewhat disappointed by the so-called progress that was taking shape around me, I took out my notebook and wrote: How odd that they come here now to see gift shops and restaurants that serve Cajun food or sushi—things which have nothing to do with the history of this place or its people. There is always a bittersweet feeling that comes over me when I return to these hills. Maybe it’s impossible to go home—not because the mountains have changed, but because I have changed. I am a tourist in my own country.
Then I began to ponder the question, “What is home?” Is it always the place where you spent your formative years? If so, then what happens if that place changes? Is it still home? I spent 19 years on the fringes of Atlanta, because I wanted to get an education and a job—two things I could not get in my mountain hometown. There was a long stretch of time when I identified more with urban sprawl than country roads. I was outrunning my roots, or as my grandparents would have said, I was “getting above my raising.” While I was busy chasing other rats in the rat race, I must have believed that my piece of Appalachia would remain the same, as though it could be preserved like canned goods to enjoy at a later date—but even canned goods have expiration dates.
After moving around like a gypsy and always hoping the next place will somehow be more “home” than the last one, I have come to believe that home is not really a place at all—it’s a feeling. My mother once said that if you are comfortable with yourself, you are at home no matter where you go. She was right, of course, but it’s also about community and being part of something greater. I believe it’s also about being loved and accepted for who you are, and truth be told, I’m not so certain I’d find that in the hills where I grew my wings and flew away.
I do find it, however, when I’m in sacred space, when I laugh and share stories with strong women who allow the Goddess to speak and move through them, and when I’m with my beloved. As Starhawk wrote in The Spiral Dance, “We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time.” May we remember and catch more glimpses. Blessed Be.