Monday, July 5, 2004

Trish #27

Trish came home today for a therapeutic visit. The visit came about suddenly. Last Friday, one of her therapists said to me, "Trish is doing quite well. Monday most of us will be off work anyway, why don't we consider allowing her to visit home? I think it will be good for her."

The neurologist came in, looked at Trish, talked with me a bit and agreed.

So this morning, I went in and signed a paper promising not to allow Trish to drink any alcohol nor to drive a car. (Trish thought that was really funny.)

The day went well. I brought Trish home. She promptly had a nap and then ate lunch. She then took another nap. After that nap, she got up in time to have dinner with us. I returned her to the rehab center where I helped her get a shower, dried her hair, coached her as she brushed her teeth and so forth. After all of that, it was time for bed. As I tucked her in and said goodnight, she looked up at me and said, "thank you for a beautiful day. Aren't those grandchildren the most gorgeous kids you have ever seen?!"

I am now trying to make sense of the thoughts and emotions I have experienced today. ( I thank you, by the way, for allowing me to do this. I know that many of you are copying these e-mails and passing them on. I know this because I hear back from thousands of people who read them. I have too many e-mails from all of you to respond immediately but I am resolved to respond to every single e-mail as I am able. Your willingness to walk with me through this illness has been a life-saver.)

Today I learned that when you are caring for someone who is disabled, it takes a lot of time to do simple things. Many years ago, I remember hearing folk complain about how the government was forcing businesses to make buildings accessible to the disabled. Back then, I had no opinion about this because it made no difference to me. Tonight, I can assure you that if you ever have to deal with wheelchairs and the other kinds of paraphernalia that disabled people must use to make life work for them, you will never complain about any of the regulations requiring ramps, Braille and the like. For when a building is inaccessible to the disabled, it is not only them who are kept from using the space but those who serve them as well. (All of you who are planning some building or remodeling project, please take note.)

Another thing I learned today is how crucial the concept of "home" really is. We did a lot of work to get Trish home today. We did it because her therapists thought she might make greater strides toward recovery this next week were she to go home for a few hours and remember who she is and where she belongs. For weeks now, she has been in bed. Strangers have taken care of her most basic needs. She has been subject to a hospital schedule. She has had to eat what the hospital serves. She has been wearing clothes that are convenient for those who care for her. She has been surrounded with sounds, odors and tastes that are not of her choosing. Even though she has received excellent care, a hospital is an unavoidably alien and strange world. To the extent that she has been adapting to that world, she has been losing something of her own being. Home is where you don't have to struggle to remember who you are. Trish needed to go home so she could remember who she is.

Trish and I have an upstairs bedroom. My sons-in-law were kind enough to help Trish up there for her nap. When we laid her down on the bed, I lay down beside her. I looked at her for a moment and then asked, "what does this feel like?"

"It feels like home," she replied. "I had began to imagine it differently. Now I remember what its like."

Almost immediately, she was asleep.

The word "home" presses all kinds of emotional buttons for me. In a therapy session a few years ago, a psychologist asked me, "If I pushed you to sum up your life's theme in one word, what would it be?"

"Exile," I replied. "I am an exile. I have lost my home."

I won't bore you about why I had come to feel that way. It had to do with my birthplace and with our mountain people's deep connection to their land. It had to do with what I perceive to be the drastic changes that have taken place to the spiritual landscape of Christianity in America. It had to do with a season of life in which I could not seem to make anything work. It had to do with a hunger to return to a people whom I believed might possibly understand me and what I was about. It had to do with a profound feeling of being 'out of sorts' with the modern world and its values. All of these things compounded into a stew that was cooking my insides. Everyday I longed to return "home." The trouble is, I had come to believe that "home" was irretrievably lost.

In many ways, this nostalgic homesickness was for a place that never was and for a time that never existed. In that sense, homesickness truly is, as the word implies, a "sickness." Such homesickness can eat at the foundation of your emotional life until nothing satisfies. It becomes an insane fixation that corrupts ones' soul. In another way, though, homesickness is a cure for illusion and idolatry. For Christian spirituality can be characterized as a sort of homesickness.

"Why is the heart of the Christian heavy?" asks St. Augustine. "It is because he is a pilgrim and he seeks his own country."

I can assure you that tonight "home" is no longer a geographical location for me. Tonight, home is wherever Trish is. Home is being with my children and their families. As I have learned these past five weeks, family can be gone in the bat of an eye. It has, therefore, become exceedingly precious.

I spent years grieving the loss of "home." I grieved so hard for "home" that I couldn't seem to get on with making peace with the location where God had placed me.

Tonight I know how silly that is. Tonight I know that Trish is my home. Tonight I realize that you, my dear friends, scattered as you are throughout North and South America in the many places where Trish and I have lived and ministered -- you are our home.

Trish now knows this better than I. When she was just beginning becoming conscious, before she could talk above a slight whisper, she said with a lot of emotion, "Take me to the Merimishe." (New Brunswick!)

"Why do you want to go to the Merimishe?," I asked, amused at this reference to a place we had not visited for over twenty years. "Because I want my grandchildren to meet Gerald and Ermine," she replied.

Gerald and Ermine were our friends in Montreal when Talitha and Tiffany were infants. They were so kind and dear to us then. The years have gone by since then and we have seen them twice in these two decades. But to Trish, coming out of a coma, the Merimishe, which is the Price's ancestral home and where they returned after their retirement, does not seem so far away or so difficult to visit. Since the day she talked about Gerald and Ermine ,she has asked about friends in Nashville, and Kentucky, West Virginia and Montreal, Mexico and California. Her spirit seems totally unhinged from geography. She seems to have pulled people who are precious to us in Phoenix, Nashville, New Brunswick, and South America all together in some "place" in her head where distance means nothing.

Of course, that is what the Communion of Saints is all about. It is the relationship among the living and the dead, those far and those near, ones we met just today and those whom we have known since birth. Most people never get an opportunity to gather all the friends they have known until the moment of their death. Trish and I have been given a great gift in this regard. For through these e-mails, God has allowed us to gather together almost everyone we have known throughout our lives. Even after all these years of separation, my people in the mountains of West Virginia didn't fail to reach out to us in our hour of trail. The folks in Canada who cared for us when we were just starting our family -- they have been here once again for us. Our Latin American friends, who allowed us to adopt their language and their culture -- how precious their support has been. My Nashville family -- they have never abandoned us, have never let us drift away from their hearts and they have given us their overwhelming support these past few weeks. And then the people of Phoenix -- when we had to walk through the fire, they did not hesitate to walk into the fire with us. All of these wonderful friends and loved ones have gathered around us and have not allowed us to fall. Wherever you may be tonight -- that is my home for you are my family.

Like Trish said, it was a beautiful day. Struggling with that wheelchair, trying to fit it into the car, huffing and puffing to get Trish from the hospital to the house and then back again, washing her hair and drying it, putting her into the hospital bed once again and then saying goodnight -- it was all beautiful. How could it not be beautiful? Knowing that God is going to allow us more time together to visit the Merimishe, the Appalachian Mountains, the hills of Tennessee, the enchanting city of Santa Fe, the peaceful and hospitable cities of Latin America and the cities and towns of the Sonoran desert where we have lived these past ten years. All of these places are home now. We can live in any of them with joy and peace until the day when God calls us to the home of the soul.

Life is largely about discovering the nature of the irresistible and irrepressible longing that haunts our dreams and woos our hearts. It is about looking down one avenue after another, pursuing first this adventure and then another. It is about daring to do more than to merely exist. Its about risking one mirage after another in order to find, if possible, some piece of earth that will not move that we can call our own. In all this exploration, one turns down many a blind alley and hits many a dead end. But then, sometimes someone discovers, as Trish and I have, the pearl of great price -- the Holy Grail -- the gold at the end of the Rainbow. It is the realization that we have never really longed for any geographical place nor for any title or material possession. All we have been struggling for is to know, beyond any doubt, that home is simply God Himself.

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