There were three years of my life when going home actually felt like something important. It was my first three years years of college, and going home often meant a holiday or a break. It felt special. The summer before my senior year my mom died of cancer, and going home felt impossible and like something I wanted to avoid. So I did. And then, a year after college, I got married and effectively created my own home. It wasn’t my only reason for marriage, but now, after thirteen years, three kids, and a divorce, I can see that it was part of my motivation. In the hierarchy of motivations it wasn’t the best or the worst one. But it played a part. At 23 I couldn’t see that, and even if someone had spoken that truth to me then, I can’t imagine I would have listened.
I’m listening now, or at least trying to. To people – some I know and others I don’t – much wiser than me. Some of them have written books and others provide little encounters with truth while ringing up my groceries. If we’re lucky we get to experience more than one perspective as we pass through this life. It’s difficult to embrace the perspective of “parent without primary physical custody who lives two hours away” as a lucky one, but what other choice do I have? Thich Nhat Hanh, the brilliant Zen Buddhist, writes that “the first step in the art of transforming suffering is to come home to our suffering and recognize it.” Come home? To suffering? There aren’t a lot of people signing up for this trip.
There’s nothing worse than going home after I’ve dropped my kids off at their mom’s house. My youngest cries when I hug him goodbye, and I cry when I get in the car. And then I drive for two hours and walk into a quiet, empty house. A house where, just hours earlier, it was the center of activity, of trampoline jumping, homework finishing, guitar playing, and Lego building. And it feels like a punch in the gut. And I fucking hate it. And it’s necessary whether I want to admit it or not. Because what I’m learning is that I have to own this particularly painful perspective in order to either transform it or be transformed by it. Maybe both.