Home is like my favorite picnic blanket. The yellow blanket first caught my attention for its soft, pale coloring and quilted texture. Yet for all that, I don’t believe I can honestly say that I chose the yellow blanket. Rather, it seems it adopted me. I say this because I don’t quite remember how it came into my possession. It was at my Nana’s house in Texas and then somehow in our home and then my room. The details are somewhat dim, but the blanket is now mine fully, an object which everyone close to me can point at exclusively and say belongs to Shelby Mills. It’s one of those things that just makes sense for me to own. Upon being introduced to a new person the blanket seems to say, “Of course I belong to her.”
It’s rather like walking into a person’s bedroom, or sitting in their car for the first time and thinking, “of course this belongs to them, it couldn’t look any other way.” Just as my Dad’s office is crammed with bookshelves overflowing with theology, old Russian authors, medical textbooks, coca-cola memorabilia, and all our school books. Knowing my Dad, no one could suppose his office to overflow with computer monitors or business textbooks. A room, or a home for that matter, is reflective of the memories, conversations, meals, movies, arguments, mundane dishwashing days, and the music played there.
There are many who will say that home should be a person and not a place. Indeed people can be home – that I know from car rides of laughter and songs specific to certain friends and family members. That said, having recently left behind the dry rolling hills of Southern California for the forests of west Georgia – nearly 2,000 miles away from home – the warm conviction that home must carry a sense of place is growing stronger. When I initially applied to a program closer to the Atlantic than the Pacific I thought a desire to see new places was enough to adopt a new place. But that was before my childhood home was sold to buy a house in another state. I hold no resentment over this decision, but to know that home is now occupied by people I’ve never seen – that there will no longer be baseballs painted on my little brother’s walls, or the bookshelves my late grandfather and I built will be taken down – is almost unbearable. There is something about leaving a place so well known you had once called it drab, that makes you see it all anew. The brown hills around my neighborhood that I once thought parched and dry, were suddenly clothed in a glorious light foreign to my eyes. The ocean I was so hesitant to dip more than my toes in became something lovely and full of sunlight. And the mountains, which I’ve always held dear, all at once became like Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major – the ache and joy of a goodbye.
There’s a grief that comes with placelessness. With memories that no longer have anything tangible attached to them. Yet, isn’t this how it should be? Jo March, upon leaving her sisters in Concord found she could write nothing truly meaningful till she set her mind on the moments that shaped her at Orchard House – her childhood home. Of her writing she tells Marmee “If there is anything good or true in what I write, it isn’t mine; I owe it all to you and Mother and Beth.” Perhaps setting our eyes on eternity, the things that are above, is an act of pondering a good home rather than unfamiliar celestial cities. While heaven will indeed be new, I am convinced that familiarity will be there too. In our friendship with Jesus we are home. As Lewis says so well (what does he not say well?) in Till We Have Faces, “Do you think it meant nothing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
The pursuit of beauty and the acknowledgement of it points to the glory of our heavenly dwelling with our Father. One cannot love an unfamiliar father, just as home is not home if it is strange. Beauty and familiarity, home and heaven are too closely interwoven to break into separate searchings. There is something about knowing the way the light falls in my old room right before dinner, or all the lines on the back of my boyfriend’s hand, or knowing by heart the passage of Little Women where Jo writes her poem, that is more intimate and more beautiful than a mountain view I have not yet seen – no matter how glorious the Alps may be, I have no sense of home to correlate with their peaks.
The yellow blanket has now found its way to Georgia, though it’s a color that speaks more of California. In its new setting I still see it as a reminder of beach sunsets and blueberries, espresso and studying in a park in the hills, sisters and Alcott, Tolstoy and Tolkien with sweet kisses in between chapters, pine trees and family vacations. I know that new things will come, that, if the blanket holds up long enough, there will be friends not yet made who sit and read with me there, children only now a distant thought who picnic on it. One day I’ll read Little Women on it again in another park, in another state, and feel the overwhelming pull of hearth and sisterhood. In all that, the old memories and the ones to come, is the draw of home and the furthering of eternity.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… come further up and further in!” CS Lewis, The Last Battle