By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service
SWARTZ CREEK, MI (ANS) – Many popular sayings that are regarded as embodying folk wisdom are, in fact, as crumbly as the fortune cookies where they should stay. I have always been struck by how almost every handy, traditional capsule of folk wisdom is cancelled by another such time-honored saying. “Look before you leap”? But… “He who hesitates is lost.”
You can “roll with the punches” OR “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And so forth.
I recently thought the oft-quoted Thomas Wolfe aphorism, “You can’t go home again” when I did in fact visit the home in New York City where I was born, and the address in the New Jersey suburbs where I was reared. I drove from the Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference with my friend Shawn Kuhn, who was born in a different neighborhood of Queens. We were each a little surprised that our neighborhoods were clean, appeared safe, and had not fallen prey to real or clichéd urban blight: just the opposite.
Later in the week, with my sister Barbara, we visited the address of our adolescent years — I call it such because it was recently razed and replaced with what regretful “natives” like me are calling “McMansions,” ridiculous mini-estates on half acres. Most of the new owners likely suffer from the affliction common to parvenus, the Edifice Complex.
It was sad to see my home no longer there; our Village School boarded up; the town’s Swim Club closed and overgrown; an d the church of our youth condemned, doors chained closed, neglected.
However. Paging Thomas Wolfe: “You CAN go home again.” I understand that I am supposed to understand that the past is past, a rose is a rose, and all those other syllogisms. The more important facts relate not to whether our parents have died, or our homes have been demolished, but what value they had in our development. The important corners of our memories. Then, the question is not whether we can “go home,” but whether those “homes,” our foundational values, can, or should, ever leave us.
I will call someone else, George Santayana, into the discussion, and mangle his own famous aphorism: “Those who forget the past are not only in danger of repeating it, but of having no past at all.”
I recently quoted Theodore Roosevelt in this space: “Both life and death are parts of the same great adventure.” And we should be reminded that Wolfe’s adage refers to the emotions and our intellectual growth, as much as nostalgic real-estate tours. My childhood is not a house; it was spent in a home that stood there. What I am, or have achieved, as a man is no less real because my parents died after my formative years. The chapel of my affectionate memories is gone, all the more bitter because it stands as a skeleton; but my faith was not diminished because the doors are chained shut.
Indeed, the pasts we miss and the futures we distrust are seldom pieces of real estate or schoolrooms or, say, battlefields. They are of the mind, the intellect, of life-choices, emotions… in fact, the spiritual realm.
Even when we know this fact, whether we are filled with joy or anxiety, it is easy to forget: a most human part of our humanity. My heart currently grieves for the director of the writer’s conference Shawn and I attended, because she is beset by personal problems, health trials facing herself and family members, business challenges galore… (Please look for the website of Write His Answer Ministries and see the wonderful things Marlene Bagnull has done and is doing)
Christians know the Author all good things, and know who the enemy of our souls is, and who comes to seek, and kill, and destroy. Words are cheap (if I can cite another old cliché) but, being a frequent victim of discouragement myself, I feel qualified to remind anyone who will listen that there is a Larger Story. We cannot always see it. But we need to remember it.
“I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” Joshua 1: 5.
We call to our memories: we should summon the best of them. They call to us. And, whether our children live near or far, we should always be in the mode of calling them home too. Just as our Heavenly Father does to us.
Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture”) to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography and children’s books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. Email Rick at RickMarschall@gmail.com.