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The Proper Place of Place

Medium.21.106191We were obviously leaving this house, looking around to be sure we gathered up the last of our belongings, taking last, longing looks at the home we knew, the rooms we wandered, remembering how our children had grown, the wall-marks that signified paint marred by some game or indiscretion. When we closed the door for the last time and walked to the street, I looked back at the double upstairs windows which looked out from the playroom where we had spent many happy times. As I turned to go, following my wife and two children, I noticed the street, the other homes, the curb we sat on, the circles we played in, as if I had never seen them before.

When we reached the train station, I realized I had forgotten something --- something important. "I'll be back soon," I said, plenty of time to make it home and back before the train left the station, and I walked briskly back to my house. Only I couldn't find it. I walked to the dead-end of the road, wondering how I had missed it. Turning, I walked back. It was gone. In its place --- in fact, in the place of many other homes --- were the foundations and walls of new office buildings. The landscape had changed in just the few minutes I had been gone! I ran back and forth down the street, searching for our home, looking for those double upstairs windows. But everything had changed, so much so that I could no longer even locate the land on which our home had stood, so reshaped was the very earth we lived on all those years. I returned to the train station, panicked, only to see that my wife already knew. I looked up to see my house being carried down the street on the bed of a wide trailer, broken in two halves, cut off from its place. Then I woke up.

It's easy to be sentimental about places and things. Being emotional or nostalgic about such comes easy to me, and perhaps this recent dream was provoked by my having moved my aging mother from her home to assisted living this past week. The places and things we leave behind are invested with part of us, and so when we leave there is loss. Maybe there are things best left behind. The escaping Israelites were told to leave behind the idols of Egypt. Lot's wife was told not to look back (that is, to be nostalgic) about Sodom. Fail. And yet we leave behind many good things. Memories of playing with our kids in a yard, being at a table for dinner, or playing games with friends in the den do not die. We forever associate them with a place and a time, and while we cannot duplicate them, we can remember and let that remembrance invest our new place, not forever replaying the old but forever letting the old create new meaning in the present.

My mother doesn't like assisted living. She doesn't like her new place. She wants to go home. She longs for the familiar rooms and things so long lived with. She wants things to be the way they were, and yet they can't. Home? If I could, I'd explain to her by way of reminding myself that home is the rock-solid present, shaped by and invested with the spirit of what we left behind, and lived out in the promise of a future, better Home --- a new place of rock and sky and ocean and forest and houses fit to who we are. All the homes we ever had point ahead to the one we long for.

In his study of what the Bible says about our future home, Heaven, Randy Alcorn reminds us of the physicality of heaven, reminding us that it is made of the same stuff of earth, that it will be a familiar and very tangible place to us, echoing with redeemed remembrances of what we left behind. He says that "because we've already lived on earth, it will seem from the first that we're coming home. Because we once lived on Earth, the New Earth will strike us as very familiar." We see this place or these places we love as shadows of places we long for. That makes it worth settling in, makes it worth loving place.

I don't want my mother to forget where she has been, all the places she has lived. Remembering is good. But I hope she will look around, that she will settle in, and I hope she will look ahead to her Home to come. That's the stuff of dreams.

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