After supper last Sunday, my eldest daughter and I went for a walk. Just a brief walk, spanning a few city blocks and little over an hour. Accompanied by our garrulous black wolfhound it was still dusky twilight when we departed, arriving home under a starlit sky.
During our walk my daughter asked a few questions, mostly centering on this or that location and a few bits about the history of my hometown. I shared what I knew and embellished the rest (an important skill for someone in my line of work) trying to pass on as much local lore and trivia and I could muster.
In the writings of Ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the phrase “earth and water” is used to represent the demand of Darius I from the cities or people who surrendered to him. I’ve taken the phrase as one of my own, often muttering it under my breath in annoyance at some issue pertaining to the progress (or lack thereof) in my hometown. For me it is both an expression of my hope for the community, seasoned with a healthy dose of impatience.
A few days ago a friend of mine took me up in his private airplane for a quick spin around the county… literally. I believe he wanted me to report on something to do with drought conditions, and the impact it’s had in the last few years on hardwood trees in East Texas. I’m not really sure. As soon as we lifted off, his constant chatter faded into a distant hum. I was overtaken by my view of our land from the heavens.
My eyes misting up at the sight of my home from a few thousand feet, the words came silently to my lips: earth and water. My thoughts turned toward the multitudes I know and love, and even those very few with whom I share some trivial acrimony. There is no “them” but only “us.” How silly and futile our petty rivalries seem in the broader context of the land we all share. Everything looks perfect from far away.
If you’ve lived in a place long enough, you cannot help but find yourself caught up in the tangle of stories of friends and loved ones calling out from the parade of memory. Upon the passage of enough season a man discovers his soul is vast and his heart contains multitudes.
One memory among many is a sunny spring afternoon in the mid-1990s, I was attending a banquet held for soon-to-be graduates of the local high school. During the function I crossed paths with the eternally effervescent world-renowned violinist Isidor Saslav, who inquired of my post-high school plans. I told him I was planning to “leave town as fast as and as far away possible.”
Isidor smiled wider and said, “Yes, sometimes it’s good to get away!” Fast forward to well over a decade later, when our paths crossed at the grocery store. I explained I had recently returned with my family in tow, and had just been hired to work at the official newspaper of record for Rusk County. Again, the widening of the smile, and the warm enthusiasm, “Yes, sometimes it’s good to come home again!”
I’ve been around. I’ve traveled a bit. I’ve seen different walks of life. With my mind I’ve experienced the world entire, and plunged the depths of history — thanks in no small part to the men and women who have kept a chronicle of humanity’s ebb and flow upon this earth. All of that to say this: the best place to be is here, and the best time to be is now.
This little place of ours is not an earthly paradise however. I reckon there are sunsets in the Himalayas that put ours to shame. How can our muddy lakes compare with the brilliant white sands and crystal clear waters of Tahiti? But here is where my spirit is welded closer than anywhere else. Not because it is perfect, but because it is a flawed diamond in the rough — and collected with those countless flaws are pieces of me scattered among the refuse. No matter how far I’ve gone or what I’ve done, I’ve always been able to come back here and find home again. Whether it is the sullen dark youth I was, or the pompous obnoxious man I am now, I am always sheltered here. I’ve cursed it and belittled every blemish (whether real or imagined), but it has always welcomed my prodigal heart — my own failures and frailties understood and forgiven.
It’s not the sort of thing you’ll find in sunny sentiments of realtors or the chamber of commerce, but where there is love and hope, understanding and forgiveness, it’s easy to find oneself at home.