21 March 2014

You can't go home again. Or can you?

"Danae" by Gustave Klimt
Once upon a time a king shut up his daughter, named Danae, in a tower so she'd never bear children, all because an oracle told him he would be slain by her son.

The story goes that she caught the attention of the Greek god Zeus, who never shied away from a challenge. Since he couldn't reach her in the normal way to woo her, he came to her in a shower of golden rain and impregnated her. Their son became the hero Perseus, who went on to perform many great feats, as well as to slay his grandfather, as prophesied, albeit accidentally.

The gnostics and the alchemists also had interesting ideas about gold. Alchemists tried to turn base substances, like lead, into gold. The psychiatrist Carl Jung studied alchemy and felt this was always meant to be a symbolic process, with the "base substance" being the self.The gnostics believed we had somehow lost the gold of ourselves within creation at the time the earth was set into motion, and life was a journey to rediscover it, that when we did so we "reassembled" Eden somehow.

In a dream I described upon waking as "a purple place," I, too, experienced a shower of gold. The air (dream air) was electric with it. In the dream with me, sleeping, were two people from my waking life. One was a minister and the other a photographer. Like Danae, I felt impregnated when I woke by something divine--the gifts of ministering to others and of seeing in a unique way. These gifts had been asleep in me and would, in the days/weeks/months/years that followed, reawaken.

So what does all this have to do with going home again?

During this time of transition in my life I attempted to revisit parts of my past--time periods when I felt whole and free. We moved a lot when I was growing up, and I often felt disconnected and at home nowhere because of it.

"Danae" by Eunice San Miguel
The two places I liked best were in upstate New York. We lived only a year and a half in Rochester, NY (fifth- and part of my sixth-grade year), but I always idealized it and thought my life would have turned out differently--better somehow--had we stayed there. I would have been more popular in high school, had more friends, dated more, chosen a different career, gone to a different college--you name it.

So through the graces (or curses) of the Internet, I looked for and found my best friend from that time. We had some great long-distance phone chats, and she suggested I come back for the 30th reunion of the high school class I would have graduated with had we not moved.

I went, expecting wonderful outcomes, and it was a disaster in the worst way.

Hardly anyone remembered me, for one. Most of the kids I was close to had also moved away before graduating, as various businesses closed offices or transferred their dads somewhere else.

To make matters worse, my friend's current best friend felt threatened by my presence and told her I'd said something about her I had not said, and so I was shunned for the rest of the reunion. It was a little like being back in junior high, and it caught me unaware. I wondered why in the world I'd gone back there.

I pondered all this, fighting back tears, while crowded onto a boat with all these people who didn't know me, floating down the Erie Canal. The once-abandoned canal had been a playground for me and some of my friends back in the day, and I saw the backyards of my former neighborhood as we drifted by.

It was dusk, and the setting sun filled the sky with orange threads.

It was early June, and cottonwood seeds sifted down, backlit, collecting in drifts along the canal banks. It reminded me of snow.

Indeed, why in the world had I gone back?

I remembered climbing across the rusty locks of the canal in the summer on dares and sledding down its banks in the winter.

"Amorous Adventures of Zeus: Danae"
by Gubdaillin Raushan
I remembered scavenging the construction dumps as
new homes went up nearby, looking for treasure in the form of scrap tile, linoleum, Formica, stone, brick, wood.

I remembered neighborhood soccer games that spanned three backyards (ours in the middle).

I remembered the horse farm a street over behind our house, the slurp and drool of the horses as they crunched the carrots I took them, and how my cat Mittens climbed the big tree just inside the horse farm fence and was afraid to come down. I could hear her mews from our patio all one day and into the next before my dad set up a ladder and carried her down.

I remembered when Mittens was born to a neighbor's cat and I visited the kittens daily, picking out the one I wanted to adopt, talking my dad into our first family pet. I still have the "contract" my mom made me sign, pledging to take care of Mittens.

I remembered Mittens going to a new home when we moved, and I felt again the hole her absence left in me. The hole that grew bigger when I learned she'd been hit by a car and killed.

I remembered teachers I'd loved there who gave me a bigger idea of who I could become. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Marcone and even crabby old Mrs. Knowles. And suddenly I realized I hadn't gone back there to find anyone or anything. I'd gone back to re-collect My Self.

The pain of reunion day took a while to go away, but now when I think about it I smile because of what I really found: the young me who lived with abandon and joy, who felt things so intensely it ached, whether the ache was good or bad. She walked back inside me then, and I pledged to hold onto her.

There's a sad song that when I hear it makes me smile for the same reason. "Blame It On My Youth" by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman reminds me of my first grown-up love affair, which was as ill-fated as my reunion trip.

But the passage of time--and this song--has turned the memory into another one of those golden showers. It didn't take long to lose my idealization of the guy, but learning to treasure the part of me who risked everything took a bit longer, and SHE was who really mattered. That she loved and lost and survived gave me the courage when I finally met the RIGHT guy to tell him how I felt about him. She helped me win Him.

I've found you CAN go home again, though it won't be what you expect. But chances are it could one day become so much better than you imagine--the golden shower of your own beautiful, feeling self, knowing that it's finally arrived home, sweet home.

It's like T. S. Eliot said in his poem Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.