Home is a place you have never been: Finding eternity in Change

A lot of my writing about Earthseed tends to be pretty abstract — God and the Universe and such. I’ve been thinking lately about how I need to talk and write more about my lived experience of Earthseed.

***

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit Louisville, Kentucky. I lived there for about 4 years, from Kindergarten through third grade — three of those years in one house on Fordham Lane. For years afterward, even now, I have identified Louisville as “home.” Which is strange, because I have lived more of my life in Indiana. We moved to Indiana when I was in the 8th grade. I graduated from high school there and then returned for law school, and I have lived here ever since.

Why then did I identify Louisville — and that one house on Fordham Lane in particular — as home?

It was the last place my parents lived together, for one thing. After they divorced, we moved almost once a year for the next 8 years or so. So it makes sense, I guess that 3 years would seem relatively permanent when followed by 8 years of transience — especially at such a formative age.

Also, my father stayed in that house after the divorce, and we would visit there in the summers. When I returned home from Brazil, after serving my 2-year LDS mission, he was still living there.He’s always been a fixture for me, an unmovable point of reference in a chaotic childhood and adolescence.

My father did eventually move to another house in Louisville with his new wife. I didn’t even have particularly fond memories of the place on Fordham Lane (my parents divorced for good reason). But it remained in my mind the one place that the word “home” regularly evoked.

So when I recently returned, it was with an acute feeling of the anticipation of returning home. It had been almost 20 years since I had been there, and over 30 years since I lived there. Needless to say, the place had changed. The trees were larger. The houses older, and shabbier. And everything seemed much smaller, even from my memory of it in my early twenties.

I sat there in my car in front of the house on Fordham Lane, feeling lost, untethered. And I couldn’t keep that timeworn saying from my mind: You can never go home.

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The assertion that God is Change is a recognition of a fundamental transience at the heart of life. In fact, if “home” is another word for all that what we hope is permanent and unchanging in our lives, if home is the idea of eternity, of God, then “You can never go home” might be a translation of “God is Change.” 

The truth is that I long for permanency, for rest and repose, for the absence of change. I long for home. And there are times when the statement “God is Change” terrifies me. As Butler said, Earthseed is not a very comforting belief system.

What does this religion of ours, Earthseed, leave us, after all, but Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of war”?

“You will never pray again, never adore again, never again rest in endless trust; you do not permit yourself to stop before any ultimate wisdom, ultimate goodness, ultimate power, while unharnessing your thoughts; you have no perpetual guardian and friend for your seven solitudes; … there is no avenger for you any more nor any final improver; there is no longer any reason in what happens, no love in what will happen to you; no resting place is open any longer to your heart, where it only needs to find and no longer to seek; you resist any ultimate peace; you will the eternal recurrence of war and peace: man of renunciation, all this you wish to renounce? Who will give you the strength for that? Nobody yet has had this strength!”– Nietzsche, The Gay Science

***

And yet, is it possible that there is a kind of permanence to be found in the midst of change, a kind of peace in the heart of war, a kind of home to be found in homelessness? 

In spite of having never being able to return to my childhood home, there have been times in my life, encounters with places and people, when I have felt what can only be described as “home”: the first time I attended a service at First Unitarian Church of Hobart, talking with other Naturalistic Pagans in a crowded hotel room in San Jose, sitting on a hillside alone among the redwoods in Muir Woods, standing on a rocky outcropping over the Pacific Ocean just off of Route 1 in California with the wind whipping past me and the waves crashing below me, one morning I got up with my infant son and just stared at him while my wife slept in the next room … and other times too personal to talk about.

In these moments, I felt home. Perhaps then, home is a time, more than a place. And time is change. So what does that make home?

These were the thoughts that occurred to me recently, as I read this passage from Ursula LeGuin’s award winning novel, The Dispossessed:

“He would most likely not have embarked on that years-long enterprise had he not had profound assurance that return was possible, even though he himself might not return; that indeed the very nature of the voyage, like circumnavigation of the globe, implied return. You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity, and your relationship to the river, and the river’s relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of identity. You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.”

“What is changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity”: is that not another way of saying God is Change?  If the changeable is the eternal, is God, then can we find home there?

According to LeGuin, we can go home again, but home is a place we have never been. What does that mean? It is possible to find home in many moments of our lives. We experience this. Yet, while we can find them, we can never return to them. Home is always in the moment … and in the future. Perhaps, as the title of one of LeGuin’s other books says, we are “always coming home” … and always leaving it. 

Is there enough comfort in this idea of home to sustain us?

∞ = Δ

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One thought on “Home is a place you have never been: Finding eternity in Change

  1. Home for me is a way of relating, as the lovely LeGuin quote above says, a process. This is often a comfort, and it’s enough.

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