It was not what I would call a vacation in the proper sense of the word. I did not go out there to see the sights, but to go home.
The place is Ohio. It is not a destination for most, though it is one for me. It is home after all and travel there is always a return to love.
The roads between Chicago and points in northern Ohio are well worn for me. I navigate the city, northern Indiana and Ohio with relative ease….or I do usually. There was the notorious patch of ice outside of Fort Wayne in the late nineties that proved our minutes here are but by the grace of God and my return to the city yesterday was marked by a snowy northwest Indiana and twenty foot waves driven by 50 mile per hour wind gusts crashing onto the Drive.
When I drive between Chicago and Ohio, my mind can wander and my sense to explore becomes heightened. The trip into Ohio a few days back proved this. I don’t know how many of these roads that cross route 30 I’ve turned off of to see, but they are many. The reasons for this are twofold. The lesser one is that is I usually want to see something new along the way as the drive can have a certain monotony, but there is also the greater reason.
In The Plague, Camus writes of the doors of Oran opening after epidemic has imposed an exile on the city. Loved ones separated during the outbreak would soon be reunited as the city rejoined the world. One would think the gates could not swing open soon enough, but after months of feigning for the day of reunion, a peculiar feeling sets in. The people of Oran become wistful as their exile turns to anticipation.
I’m a couple of hours from Marion when I turn off onto the back roads. It is a bucolic day. The sun shines and the weather is warm for October. I weave in and out of northwest Ohio heading toward Lima. Soon I will be in the arms of reprieve, but I first want anticipation.
The anticipation was had, but anticipation is one of those infinite feelings that can only be tolerated for a finite period of time. The anticipation would end and I would soon find myself in the place of reprieve. The reprieve was had in country walks, small towns, restaurants, hiking, Amish farms, pumpkins, shops, and a bike trail. It was had in these things, but it was given to me most vehemently in the arms of love.
This is Ohio, the place of love….love had in a ranch house and red brick home. Challenging but caring conversation love, laughing children love, quite walks with family love. I know this place and places like it for many are the places of love that stretch from the north of Chicago to the northeast of Ohio. Every mile marker has a story and a scenery played out in the great wash of care. The stories do not belong here in such a public way, but it is too bad really. If I could reveal the intensity of feeling and the extent of compassion had between two points than the entire world could be contained in a 250 miles radius of Fort Wayne Indiana.
I listen to Over the Rhine and think I know these places “like the back of my hand.” I wonder if everyone has such great stories attached to the places they love….if every city on earth is as great as Chicago and every bucolic town as lovely as Waldo or Charm. I think on the universality of love and know it is only had in the particular.
I know the particulars. In my adult life they stretch from a place called Misericordia to the rolling hills of eastern Ohio counties. Their potency was born in other places. Amadour and Grafenstein were my childhood teachers. The potency of adulthood, parenting, vocation, and protection was and is had in the city on the lake. Ohio is the place that bridges the two and continues the story. That is why I return there. That is why every mile between a Chicago street and some unnamed highway in northeast Ohio is the story of my life. It is why I can say I know these places better than anywhere in the world and it is in these places every lesson learned and every experience had can be held. Yes I do know Ohio “like the back of my hand” and because of Ohio I know other places in that way too.
On returning to Chicago, winter had arrived. A six hour trip became eight and a half. I longed for the previous Monday away from work and basking in better than seventy degree weather. But now on a Friday, I was battling the elements. The waves coming off of Lake Michigan were the most ferocious I had seen. It may still have been October, but the weather was Gordon Lightfoot’s late November. Despite being Halloween, I could only beat back the ferocity by thinking of the upcoming holiday season….Chicago at its best….cold but lovingly gentle with its Michigan Avenue lights and Museum of Science and Industry Christmas trees.
Why love a place? It is because it is in particular places we know we are loved. My return to Chicago led me to think of how much I’ve been loved here. It also made me think I learned what that meant only because of a place from which I was returning. I thought of my Ohio stories….the old ones and the ones that were newly created in the last few days. Half a century of life and in an old familiar place, new stories could still be born. Proved again…..Ohio is an eternal place that holds the past and present together.
What is the lesson in all this? What did I learn on my return to Ohio after a long time away? I learned you can go home. I don’t mean you can recreate the past. I do mean the past may speak to you in the present and past places can indeed be present places as well. They may even be the future. If Ohio is eternal to me, the story did not end upon my return any more than the story of where I am now ends no matter where I find myself.
Look and see where you are loved. Do you have to move on from that place? Perhaps, after all I did, but not really. In the little houses of Ohio my story of care continues as assuredly as it does here in the great city Chicago. Your place of care does not have to mean so much to others, but to you it means everything just as mine does to me. You have your little houses and you quiet streets and corners of reprieve. They are found in every room that beats back the cold of the coming winter and every loving embrace of those always there. Look and see! Where is the place that is eternal to you and who are the people? Know this and you will know where and to whom you belong.
Image: Pleasant Township Park, Marion Ohio