As soon as I had listened to "I'll Be Home for Christmas," I got out of the car, came into the house, and turned on the TV just in time to hear an ad for Wal-Mart, one of a series of ads featuring their slogan for this year, "Home for the Holidays." I believe deciding exactly where home is for us can be most confusing these days. If I'm home for Christmas, does that mean I am here in our Victorian house in Maine? Am I still in Maine but maybe at Rachel's house? Matt's apartment? Or, one of the more powerful images, am I in Memphis, Tennesee, on Josephine Street, where I grew up and where my mother still lives? Could I be in Collierville, Tennesses, at my sister's house? What if I'm just somewhere in Tennessee - is that being home for Christmas? And I can't forget Arkansas; it would certainly feel like home if I had my aunt and uncle and cousins together for Christmas (and one of those would have to be gathered in from another state!).
This year, as in other years, our family is sharing our kids with other families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After all, when your children marry and some have children of their own, all of a sudden your family is enlarged tremendously, and the idea of home becomes fairly complicated. I think it becomes complicated even if you never have children. Once any two people unite in a relationship, there are more definitions of home added to the family dictionary. Can home be more than one place? Can we relinquish the idea of home being just a house or apartment?
Oh, it's easy when you're young. When I was a student at Lambuth College, and someone had asked me if I were going home for Christmas, I would have said, "Yes, indeed!" and I could have told you exactly where that home was located. When I married Ed, all of a sudden we had three homes - his, mine, and ours! My sister got married - and we added another home. We moved from a house in Memphis to parsonages all over Tennessee - each our home for a time, and each surrounded by friends we have left behind. Heck, during one transfer we had a "layover" and considered a Holiday Inn as home for 2 weeks! (I know hurricane victims are considering hotels home in terms of months, not weeks.) Now both our children are married and we have more homes added to the list. I think sometimes if I were truly going to be home for Christmas I would have to have St. Nicholas's magic of being everywhere at once.
And, of course, I could sum this all up in the famous saying, "Home is where the heart is." The older I get, the more I realize that whenever I am with family, I am home. Whenever I am with friends who love me, I am home. Again, the journey to simplicity keeps coming back to relationships, not things.
The problem a lot of folks my age face is the fact that not only are our family members living in other houses, but in today's world they are often living in other states or even other countries. In a way, that has expanded our view of home, but it also has made the actual possibility of everyone getting together more remote. And relatives are getting older, and time moves on, and we sometimes joke at funerals that it's a "reunion." It's sad that a reunion has to wait for a time like that.
We can't entirely dismiss buildings as a valid way to awaken home memories, however. Our memories are interwoven with places and people and things, and each has the power to touch a memory circuit in our brains enough that if we close our eyes, we are there again. Ed had an experience like that years ago when he was preaching. The congregation was singing "Silent Night," and all of a sudden, Ed says, he closed his eyes and the whole scene disappeared and he was back in his childhood church basement in Missouri, a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, singing that exact song. He insists this was not a memory per se; he was actually transported for just a minute to that basement.
So ideas of home cover much more than things and people present. Part of my home is my own childhood church, long burned down. Part of my home is my dad, my grandfather, and my great aunt, Aunt Bessie, and others who have passed away.
I'm glad the word home is broad enough to take all these meanings and give life to them. I'm glad the vivid memories I have of happy times and loved ones can still live in my heart. Sometimes home is indeed a state of mind. Of course, there's nothing like having my mom and sister present with me during the holidays. But I feel their love "across the miles," as the cards say, and I am thankful that love is strong enough to reach beyond distance, even beyond time itself...
"Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams."