Seven months ago many of my brother Jesuits – men with whom I had entered the Society – were headed off to spend half the summer together learning to teach in northern California. But not me.
Instead, I left behind my friends and community, and moved to Minneapolis to teach summer school for a few hours each morning. I envied my classmates. And as I wiled away the lonesome summer afternoons, I thought, time and again, “I don’t need to be here. I wish I were in California with my buddies.” Like I said — not a happy camper.
And then, one morning before classes began, the president of our school addressed the incoming students for the first time. I figured it’d be the standard, “welcome, glad you’re here…” – so I started to zone out. But then a string of his words jumped out at me. “My grandma always told us that when you’re trying something new,” he said, “it’s going to be hard at first. It’s going to offer new challenges and may make you feel uncomfortable. But you need to give something new at least six weeks before you render your verdict.”
I don’t know if the students caught those words, but they hit me square in the chest. They hung with me all day.
Whenever I come across something that strikes me to the core like that it feels a little bit like God, Chief Surgeon of the Soul, has been digging around and identifies a tweaked nerve or two. “Hmmm, Joe. Why don’t we have a look-see at this… Maybe this needs a little attention?”
It slowly dawned on me that although my body was in Minnesota, my mind was in Chicago (the city I’d just left after three great years), and my heart was with my friends halfway across the country. I’d been reluctant to welcome what was right in front of me because I was focused on the sting of what was absent. No wonder I felt so out-of-sorts most of the summer.
As you may know, we Jesuits are asked to move like this every few years (it helps us stay one step ahead of our creditors; just kidding… or am I? Nope, I actually am). These transitions demand of us what they demand of everybody: changes in day-to-day rhythms, re-negotiations of close relationships, reassessments of how and who we are going to be (in the deeper sense of that word) in our new environs.
But what happened to the Joe who loved to be on the go? Who was hungry for new adventures and opportunities to serve? How was it any different from a summer immersion in rural India, or a semester abroad in Europe? I think that we manage those shorter trips because we know we’ll still get to go home afterwards. The kind of moving I’m talking about are those real reorientations of the “whos,” the “whats,” and the “wheres” that, taken together, answer that old question: “Where’s Home for You?” (here’s where I ironically cue the sappy, nostalgic theme of us Millennials in case you were wondering).
It’s taken me a handful of major moves as a Jesuit to know that transitions are hard in their own, subtle ways. The deeper realization has been that mourning the loss of the familiar is okay; heck, it’s downright healthy. All this even more so when the place and people and life we’re leaving has really shaped us.
So what that fateful address did was help me remember that I’m called to open my heart – open the rhythms of my life – to the whos and whats and wheres right in front of me. To carry those memories and people in my heart without dwelling on the past or the ever-fleeting couldabeens. To let those old bonds strengthen me not just for myself, but so that I can welcome more fully those whom God places before me here in Minneapolis.
The greatest grace has been learning again, as if for the very first time, one of those few stable truths in our changing world. The only sure answer to the question “Where’s Home for You?” is: God. And the image I have of being at home in God isn’t something schmaltzy like me sitting in a comfy recliner next to a bearded, avuncular God figure. No, it’s more like finding myself at home in that inner place, wherever I may be camping. It’s having the Chief Surgeon give me his home number, assuring me that I can call anytime, anywhere.