One day in a historical methods class, E. Morris Sider – our beloved professor – asked us to depict what we thought the course of history looked like. Was it a straight line? A circle? A wave? Around the seminar table in the college archives, we came to the conclusion that history is like a rolling circle – it loops back on itself but also moves forward.
A metaphor I’ve held close ever since.
This afternoon, I will drive over the newest of my homes – the soft caps of the Blue Ridge – and settle into her cradle, the smooth, wide plain of the Shenandoah Valley. I will pass Old Order Mennonite farms and watch for women in coverings and cape dresses. I will skirt pass the Green Valley Book Fair and think of my mom and the way she carried more weight in a book basket than she did any other time. I will park my car at Eastern Mennonite and think of my Messiah home, where so much of the community I adore found its beginning.
Then, I will spend two and a half days listening, learning, crying, I’m sure, at the Coming to the Table National Gathering – a group, a new community where I think I may find another home amongst people who do not silence conversations about the legacy of slavery, who do not dismiss the pain or stories or the risky challenge of these conversations.
Two years ago, when I was invited to the welcome dinner for this same Gathering, I traveled through a place that is no longer part of my home – Richmond, where my former family lived, where I still cannot drive without the ache of memories lost and those never formed. Now, I am glad to leave those memories behind, even as I grieve them, glad to live into this new journey of blue mountains and conversations wrought through centuries, of farm life and a man who loves me better than anyone ever has.
That metaphor turned cliche turned Tom Petty song about life and journeys and highways – it’s true despite its overuse. But I challenge the idea of “a,” of singular, of only. . . . for my life has been many roads and places, many trips and homes and the pleasures of memory and community all laced with the pain of those things, too.
When I taught composition, I used an image of a nearly complete circle to show how the conclusion of an essay should mirror the beginning of the piece but also take the reader in a new direction. It’s too tidy to seal it up, to come back right where you started. Leave us with something new to consider, a new journey to take.
It’s only today, as I watch the stories of my life flick past car windows and the lenses inside my skull, that I see my own life here, circling and ever moving on.
Where have your life stories returned? What new places are they taking you?