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The great American ecologist (and forester, conservationist, writer, wildlife biologist) Aldo Leopold once said, “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” (Conservation Esthetic) Thought about this sentiment as I left my East Coast Metropolis for my annual sojourn to Iowa. What many people may regard as flyover country has become for me—now nearing a decade—a place of rest and renewal and recreation. It is an opportunity to reconnect and share time with loved ones, friends who have become family, and to strengthen the bonds that unite us. It is vacation. But perhaps could also rightly be called a homecoming of sorts.
I am not from Iowa. Have never lived there. Didn’t go to school there. And with considerable respect for the fine people of the northwest part of the state, many of whom are connected to this blog, religious affinity notwithstanding my connection to this state is not directly of or for them. Nor is it likely that I’ll ever pull up stakes and move there. (For, although I may not often toot the horn, I am a proud New Yorker.) Rather, south central Iowa has become like a second home to me because of those who are dear if not necessarily so near to me. As cliché as it may be, if home is where the heart is, then my heart finds a kind of home in Iowa.
All of which has me wondering more and more of what “home” means. In the house in which I live, the parsonage, which also is very much home to me, the kitchen is currently being gutted and prepared for a thorough remodeling. Certain appliances had stopped working over the years and others were quickly approaching that point. Cabinets no longer shut properly, a couple of drawers had been tacked and glued back together multiple times, and handles were merely hanging on to panels more for looks than functionality. There was more Formica covering various walls than counters. Not sure if that was because of the mindset of the time it was installed many decades ago or for some other reason. The kitchen was in need of updating and it’s happening. And I’m happy that in certain ways my “home” will become more functional, usable, and better looking too.
Another word for home is habitat. Merriam-Webster defines habitat as “the typical place of residence of a person or a group.” Another definition they provide is “the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows.” I like this second one as it broadens the definition beyond merely the residence but includes the fuller word of “environment.” I also appreciate the inclusion of the term “grows.” When I was in Iowa I had the opportunity to do a number of things that one can do while on vacation. Went to the Art Museum and the Zoo. Did some kayaking at Red Rock Lake. Also visited various breweries. But we spent a considerable amount of time at my friends’ home. They have three young children and with wee ones there’s a certain amount of scheduling and consistency that’s important to keep: bed times and meals, naps and stories, that kind of stuff. Even the three year old knew when her dad was taking a different route in the family minivan to go to her daycare and questioned him about this. Constancy and questioning are both a part of growing and a part of the environment that makes a home.
What also makes a home a home are bed time songs and legos. And sometimes also tantrums and dogs peeing on the floor. A full cadre of mundane activities and events that creates home from the habitat that it’s a part of. And alongside the mundane, even within it, is the extraordinary and the beautiful.
In thinking about home, as the old cabinets were removed in my kitchen, a green floral print wallpaper came into view. I wondered who had chosen it, when, and maybe also why. In the last century since our congregation has been in this location only five other pastors have served this congregation and they and their families have lived in this house. As the kitchen is being deconstructed I wonder about the families who have used these premises, who have resided here, but more so, who have grown here in this home. I wonder about the mundane activities that happened in this kitchen. Mundane but significant.
Spiritually speaking, here is where I could insert something about God making God’s home with us. All well and good and true, but seems rather forced.
I rather just wonder about what makes home, home. Why a vacation can be like a homecoming. Why it is also good to return back to your own environment, back to your own home. And perhaps you can wonder too.
Also, I want to give a shout out to Iowa. I am not one given to the use of the superlative. It has its place and all, but generally, I find it oft overused. So, no big sell here. Still I must share that Iowa is a good place to go on a vacation. And a good place to come home to.