The View from the Existential Porch

A porch used to be a state of mind, especially in the South.  It was a place to wax philosophical about the world and everything wrong with it.  It was a place to share news, shuck corn, snap green beans, and catch a breeze.  In the year 2014 modern conveniences like air conditioning and refrigeration have caused us to lose the need for fresh air. When we lost that, we lost valuable communication time.  Last week I caught a glimpse of the past with a couple of friends.

We are lied to as children and teens and told that one day when we become adults we will be able to do exactly what we want. All too often life gets in the way, and it leaves no time for us to do those things we wish to do.  But once in a while stars align, and we end up on the porch with friends, old and new. I found myself on my porch surrounded by friendship, laughter, and cigar smoke.  I ended up with an evening that couldn’t possibly have been planned in the best kind of way.

Perhaps the porch atmosphere first exists within ourselves.  Maybe the porch is an existential porch before it can be anything else.  The people on your porch define your porch.  For instance, on my porch I had two friends.  One old friend and one brand new friend helped define that porch for me.  We are subject to what others will allow us to share withholding judgement.  We are also subject to what we feel comfortable sharing and discussing.  That particular night felt like a no-holds-barred getting real with ourselves kind of night.  That is probably the rarest of porches.

What makes a porch a porch?  As I was sitting outside under the stars with my friends talking about everything from philosophy to theology, love to divorce, and all the things that make us humans, I realized I was in a  consecrated gathering place.  I was in a meeting of sorts, although a very relaxed one, holding council with people that matter about the things of our lives that matter. I watched my concrete (in both senses of the word)  porch transform in front of me into a state of mind where  I experienced acceptance, thoughtfulness, and companionship.  I laughed, I thought deeply, and I listened to two guys that at times I was doing well to catch 5% of what they were talking about.  I grew as a person.  I considered things.  I wrote down books I wanted to read.  I never wanted to leave the porch. Why would you want to leave a place that made you glad to be a human?  I could have stayed on the porch for days.

How did I end up on this porch?  The short answer is relationship.  A porch is a starting and ending point.  It can be where you greet someone new, or it can be where you watch someone exit.  You can turn a stranger on your porch into a friend.  Some porches are traveled on everyday.  Some people wind up on our porches more than others.  In today’s society, we are used to finding our identity in what we have instead of who we are.  If we drive a nice car, have a nice job, and have a nice television we must be good people. But what happens when people never get past the porch? Will they still like you when they aren’t going to sit anywhere but the front steps?  Can you offer others undivided attention, heartfelt concern, and thought provoking questions?  Do you have friends that you can debate whether you are looking at a star or an airplane for 10 minutes straight?

Your porch is what you make it.  What kind of porch do you sit on?  Some people have a hard time seeing past themselves, but a porch can help you see the world in a different way.  It can be a place to share humanness, struggles, and advice.  It can make new friends seem like old friends.  It can remind you why your old friends are still your friends after all these years.  Sometimes the easiest way to go somewhere is to stay on the porch, and the places you end up may be out of this world.

Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.

Headed Home

It has been said you can’t go home again, and I can attest to that. Home changes as you go through life. Home isn’t a real place. Home is a feeling, and depending on how you were raised or what your life was like up until this point those feelings can vary. When I was young, home was many places. Home was my house, my grandparent’s house, school, and church. I dwelled in those places, lived there, made them my own, shared memories there, and finally left them. Those places are actual places, but the memories are the real “home”. Once my father died, my grandparents died, I finished school, and the church ceased to be home because of the people I lost no longer attending I didn’t consider those places home anymore.

Home, once I married, was a place where my family was. It was a place where my children learned to walk and talk. They grew and made memories there. They lost teeth, they celebrated birthdays, they played outside, they hunted Easter eggs, and Santa showed up. Once again, those places ceased to be home once we moved on and moved to another home. Each time we moved more memories were made, and each time those places took on a sense of home.  Memories are the childhood.  Memories are the home.  You might not be able to go home again, but you can’t lose home totally as long as you have your memories.

So what happens when you lose your sense of home altogether? It turns out you don’t die. You feel like you might at first, but you don’t actually die. A few weeks ago, on the heels of moving out of my “home” because of my impending divorce, I lost my job. That job was what kept me afloat this past year. You see, I teach. Every day was something new and every day I lived to go into the building and see these tiny humans and share their lives. I loved the pictures they drew me, and their smiles fed me. They kept me human. They made me laugh at times when I didn’t feel like I would ever laugh again. They got me out of bed each morning and made me sad to leave each day, and they never even knew it. They were my home when my own home felt like a war zone.  I lost two “homes” in one week, and now I have a clean slate to start with. Sounds empowering to some, but it’s a daunting task in actuality.

What should home be? Home to me is a place to feel safe in your own skin. It’s a place to share conversation and laughter. It’s a place for inside jokes and great food. No one judges you at home. Home is a place you hate to leave, and you love to return to as soon as you can. It’s a place to make memories. Home is where your desk can be a bit messy, or you can read tacky fiction and no one is the wiser. Home is where you can decorate however you want. Home is where no one tells you how many books is a tolerable amount. Home is a place to be you with no one telling you differently. It’s a place for your people, or your person.

Being in search of home is an odd place when you are in your 30’s. Most people my age have it together, and here I am feeling a little lost. The good thing about being lost is you can’t stay lost forever. Even if you don’t move, the places you are become home. Memories are made there, and you can develop a sense of home anywhere. It is okay to feel lost. It’s okay to wake up and feel like you don’t belong somewhere. It’s okay to know you are on the way to somewhere great, but you just aren’t there yet. In a way that’s where we all are. We are all on our way to somewhere great, and we aren’t there yet. And that? That’s okay.