In the 1959 Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” New York ad executive Martin Sloan a man in his late thirties stops to have his car serviced just a few miles from his childhood hometown. He is a man distraught with life and the urban complexities of New York and in his desire to escape these, he leaves his auto behind while on his country drive to walk back to his hometown and back in time. It would a well worn trope were it a time travel episode, but it is not. In typical Twilight Zone fashion there is a takeaway to be had; in this case it is the lesson that one need be content not living in the past, but looking forward.
I feel like Martin Sloan sometimes. His summer drive led him to the year 1934 where he meets his youthful self during an eternal summer in a place called Homewood. It is not his summer, however, but the summer of an eleven year old boy. Confused and wanting to stay, he is eventually confronted by his father who tells him happiness is not found looking backward, but forward to places yet to be discovered.
Today I heard the story of someone who went back. She is young, so her going back is really a type of going forward….a way of coming to a place called home when you realize where home is. What her story did was tell me I am already in that good place called home and life may involve the fondness of nostalgia, but it is not about living there. I listen to my young teacher as she tells me she has always loved Misericordia, where she did an internship a year earlier. After her studies, she took a job elsewhere where the most convenient route to work was driving past “Mis.” (the colloquial our Misericordia family uses for the place.) Eventually she had to change her route to something less convenient as she could not see the place without wanting so much to be there. As this was her calling in the present and the right thing to do, she found her way back.
I never thought on it. Granted I love Misericordia and the city, but in recent years I thought often of how I want to be somewhere else. My mind quickly goes into “Walking Distance” mode and I think of those childhood and young adult places and now here was someone who could not even look at a place that is so every day and commonplace to me without a great outpouring of emotion. That is the thing about home…..we think on it as average when it is anything but.
Hearing that story had a great impact. It put things in perspective. It made sense of nostalgia, but it also made sense of the present. I was in a good place and 2014 was turning out to be a good summer, though I could have used a few more sweat inducing days that make cold drinks and cool evenings all the better, but all in all even if it were not an eternal summer, it was good nonetheless and I find myself regretting I’d not realized it earlier. Besides Misericordia and Chicago had given me a few eternal summers and more than a few good ones.
Granted my nostalgia meant something. Were it not for Amadour, Put-In-Bay, Grafenstein, and Loudenville, I never would have had the life lessons to make Misericordia and Chicago what they are, but those places are not the present and this city and where I do my work are. It is here I am loved and where I have impact. The father in the Twilight Zone episode was right….the past is made up of our eternal summers, but they are not ours in the present. It is one thing to remember love and another to be loved.
The lesson here is one must really know the places where one is needed and wanted. The number will not be very many and will hopefully always include where you find yourself in at the current time. (If it does not then you need to leave and leave now as you do neither yourself nor those around you any favors.) Once you know those places, places where you are loved and can be fully present, you will have found home and there know many a good summer and even a few eternal ones.
Image: My daughter Marina and I during the eternal summer of 1992