Friday, September 11, 2015

Home is where . . .?

      New students moved into the University of Denver residence halls last weekend.  The students and many of their parents participated in all sorts of orientation events, lectures, meals, receptions, etc.  And then, on Tuesday, the parents were "invited" to leave so that their students could get on with their integration into their new world. One of those new students sent me an email on Wednesday afternoon. This student wanted to meet/talk with me. Later that day, we talked on the phone a bit. First-generation college student from a different state. No support system locally. Not making connections with other students as quickly as expected. Feeling very alone. Never been more than a hundred miles from home.
      That same Wednesday evening, I found myself (re-)watching the Civil War mini-series, "Gods and Generals" (prequel to "Gettysburg"). The title music was Mary Fahl's "Going Home".** Throughout the series (I've seen it many times), the issue of "home" rises over and 
over. Those from the southern states (at least those from Virginia) claim that Virginia IS their home. Their devotion to that home--and all that that "home" implies trumps devotion to any other, i.e., the United States. Those conflicting ideas about "home" are one of the many things that fascinates me about America's Civil War.
      So, home is where. . . ?
      "Home is where the heart is" goes the old saying.  And certainly, for the new DU student(s) who are away from family and familiar situations for the first time, "relocating" the heart can often be a challenge.  Similarly, for the soldiers in blue and gray, their "home" was where they knew who was who, what was what, where values and commitments were shared, or as General Robert E Lee in "Gods and Generals" suggests, where individuals found their sweethearts, raised families, and were buried.  He asserts that the "Yankees" will never understand that.  The "Yankees", of course, had a different vision of what "home" on this continent might imply. And the collision of those different visions, or "different dreams -- sad, so very sad" (from "Gettysburg") resulted in war.

        I have moved many times over my lifetime.  I have had to set up new "homes" in at four different states, and eleven different cities.  I have had to leave things behind, and that has often been difficult. Yet, I have enjoyed learning new things, experiencing different foods, encountering divergent religious and political views.  If I were to try to say where my "heart-home" would be found now, I'd have to say it's a little bit everywhere -- never diminished, always expanded.  And it is my hope that the student who contacted me earlier this week will experience the same, as will his fellow first-years.  It is that hope, I believe, that drives much of higher education.
       A related hope is represented in the tree in the photo above. It was planted four years ago today by a group of faculty, staff and students as part of DU's observance of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Prior to lowering the tree into the hole, and shoveling dirt over the root-ball, we all wrote on small slips of paper a prayer, a name of a victim, or a hope for the future. These bits of paper were then put into the hole, the tree was lowered, and the tree was planted. Those hopes, prayers and victim's names are now a part of that tree; their de-composition has become part of a new composition. I walk by that tree daily, and, today, I see it as an expression of a 
Greater Vision of "home", where many hopes, dreams and remembrances are brought together and encouraged to grow into something more expansive -- a mansion that can welcome all, and shelter all of our divergent and different dreams.
        All the best for the coming year and the creation of new homes.

**  The opening, along with the music can be found here:  The lyrics can be found here:

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