I’m on the flight home now.
It’s a curious idea, really. Home.
As children we might make a game of it. You know, like when you play tag with your friends and you create a safe place where you can’t be tagged. Even when we play games it’s important to have a place to be safe…a “home.” When we played this game as children, however, we had another rule. You could not stay at home forever. You had to venture out. Sometimes the rule would be that you could stay home for 30 seconds and no more.
It’s safe. You can’t be tagged there.
But you can’t stay forever either.
The game just doen’t work that way.
Venturing out and risking being tagged.
This is what the game’s about.
"What are we playing?"
“Which medley? The E Medley or the Sea Medley?”
“Oh. The Medley in D?”
“Or that one. Sure.”
…and the mandolin rings the first chords of “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and we’re off. Thirty-six hours and four long gigs later I’m on a flight bound for San Francisco from Chicago, the city that has been until rather recently, my home.
I went home this weekend. Well, to one of my homes. I have a few. Some are as large as cities and mountain ranges. This home is a group of people and the places we inhabit. I went home to Chicago to play with my band. We play blueirishfolkgrass music. It’s Irish American music gone awry. We’re rather post-modern that way (You can laugh…really). By “awry” I mean that we try to honor the traditions, but every so often other music breaks in. We don’t know how it happens, but it does. “Sam Hall in Fulsom Prison” happend that way. So did the blueirishfokgrass rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine” (or Sweete Chuyld o’Myne). Don’t ask. It’s better if you just accept it. Such music is like the weather. You can try to predict it, but you are only ever dealing with likelihoods, not promises. Blueirishfolkgrass is a Chicago phenomenon.
There is a church or three in Chicago. There are Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, and Catholics. I love them all. There are pubs and street corners. And, of course, the people. I don’t mention them lastly because they aren’t important…It’s just that they are so closely associated in my mind with the places and the things we do. Singing people. Preaching people. Loving people. Working people. Giving till it hurts and then giving some more people. They tend bar and talk about Jesus. Well, the ones I met this weekend do.
All of it together is Home.
Home. We’re standing there on a raised platform. The band is just making this up as we go along. The music is unfamiliar because we’re missing some people. We know the tunes and we don’t know the tunes and these are often the same tune. “Do I know ‘The Water is Wide?’ I don’t know. Let’s find out.” The banjo begins. We’re just playing and listening…listening so deeply in the moment as people dance and sing along, pounding the tables with ketchup bottles and pints half-full of stout. Their children are there, too. With cupcakes. Home has cupcakes…and banjos. The banjo started the tune and Tom (the Pope of Schorsch Village) sings and when the song ends he turns to us and says, “I guess I know all the words after all. That’s nice.”
Home. My goddaughter’s arms reach up to me so I can pick her up. We’ve spent very little time with her. Moving away does that. She’s just over a year old now and her smile is everything to her parents and all of us who have been gifted with this little person. Home sneaks up on me this way. It’s sometimes unexpected.
Home. St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago defies description. The river runs green with the Irish American experience. People are in the streets. The pubs, ale houses, and bars open early in the morning and people are in the streets laughing, dancing, and drinking too much. Still, somehow we’re together in this. Everyone is Irish. Well, that’s what the young African-American sailor told me at our gig downtown. He’s on leave for the weekend. He’s looking out the window on to the streets at all the people wearing green. “Have you seen so many happy people in one place?” Sometimes Home is a time…a day…a weekend. Sometimes it’s green.
Home. It’s the last show of the weekend. We’re at Chief O’Neill’s (I don’t know his “Favorite” but I’d like to learn it). The band is playing one more time and we know these tunes. We know every turn, every beat. I’m always surprised when we haven’t played together for several months and we come back together. The rust falls away so quickly. We listen. We play. We change it up and follow one another. We make the tunes new all over again. The audience sings along, dancing and spinning one another around. Home is a pub on St. Patrick’s Day.
Someone asked me why I ever left this weekend. I have to be honest that after such an amazing weekend I have to ask myself the same question. Sometimes life is like a game of tag and you just can’t stay in one place. It ruins the game. So, we venture out and “Tag!” we’re it.
Home. A friend says, “We like it when you stay with us. It seems perfectly natural to have you around.” Then there’s an embrace and a peck on the cheek. Home is just having you around.
I am on a plane crossing America’s heartland as I write this. Below me is Nebraska or Colorado or some place that, until recently, I only ever flew over. Last August my wife and I drove from our home in Chicago to our new home in Berkeley. I was “tagged” a while back and I’m in the midst of doing something new…and this woman whom I love agreed to come with me and we left our home in Chicago to do this new thing. We left the churches and the pubs, the theaters and the people. I am flying home to her now. We’ve been in Berkeley six months. That’s all. But it’s home now, too. Sometimes home is very new. It helps to have someone there waiting for you, of course, but there it is.
New places. New people. New music. New everything. It’s all a little unfamiliar still, but not every home is familiar. Familiarity comes with time. You can’t manufature that. There are no rules. It just takes time. But home? You name it and it’s home. Home is an intention.
I’m leaving home to go home and dreaming of a home that may one day be in the hills of Virginia, or Michigan, or New York, or Connemara for all I know (run like the devil from the excise man…).
Home, boys, home…with the oak and the ash and the bonny rowan tree…
God, save me, but I keep finding myself at home. The game continues and I’m home. I move about and we laugh like children playing a game. We tag one another. “You’re it!” And we laugh and find our way home until our time is up and we venture out again. Home upon home upon home upon home.
So, God says to Abraham, “come away with me. I will show you a new home.” Moses to receives this call. Ruth, too, is shown a way home. And Jesus, well, he has no place to rest his head and yet he always seemed to be at home. His ministry didn’t take him far from his home. Not really. He preached in a small corner of the world. He could walk anywhere he needed to go. He was, in a sense, always home.