Coming home to the place you never left

November 18th, 2007

We pulled to a stop at the light on the way to the dentist, of all places.

Mom, there’s a man holding a sign that says homeless.

We do this nearly every time, handing a very small bill to this very same man in the very same spot. I roll down the window with my offering. He blesses us and the light turns green.

That’s going to take him a whole year, she says as I pummel the accelerator.

A whole year for what, I ask with imperceptible interest.

To save enough for a home.

And the curtain rises to reveal the innocence of a child, seeing the hidden dignity in the humbled, the obvious depth of the need, the unbiased purity of the gift. And I hope that in this one exchange, this folded paper passed between a crack of glass, this man has indeed palmed a full dollar’s worth of peace and comfort, a home sweet home, as he is and where he is.

He is not, of course, saving up for a home. But the rest of us are. We force and finagle. We fret, scrimp and plan. We set our sights on an impossible someday, when things are finally set, the ship comes in and the planets align. When the grass is cut and the pie crust is perfect. At last, or so we envision, we arrive at a life of ease and fulfillment. Until then we scramble like mad to recast a life with a different beginning in urgent anticipation of a life with a different ending. We go looking for home.

In this week when tradition calls us home, can we find it? Can we set aside the expectations and standards, the wishes and dreams, the old resentments, the tired conversations, the grudges, the comparisons and judgments? Can we avoid the build-up and the letdown? Can we accept, forgive, forget, make peace and pass the mashed potatoes? If we can do that, really do that, then we might find home – our true home – in the very spot we sit, and we might for once – I don’t mind if I do – just eat.

A detail from the woodcarving on our front door.

In celebration of our home’s inclusion in the remarkable new book, At Home: Pasadena.


  1. Recasting a life with a different beginning . . .

    Magical thinking in the worst sense.

    Comment by Mama Zen — November 18, 2007 @ 3:02 am

  2. Your home looks beautiful and I can’t help but feel that I will one day be there, in person, with you.
    Thanks for these words on home, refreshingly absent of sentimentality or cynicism.

    Comment by bella — November 18, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  3. Oh, to be a knocker on that door … to be a neighbor of yours! So fitting, so perfect.

    (I actually dreamt over night of starting a blog carnival of asking people to take photos of their front doors. Hmm. Wonder what all of this means. I second Bella)

    What a great thought Georgia has … helping homeless people buy homes. I can’t wait to see how she turns out as a young woman.

    Comment by Shawn — November 19, 2007 @ 1:34 am

  4. beautiful karen!

    i love your words…

    Comment by stella — November 19, 2007 @ 4:06 am

  5. For the karmic record, Georgia intends to become a famous actress and I intend to be her most faithful fan.

    This is what it the dream means Shawn: find the front door to your mind and fling it wide open. (Does it intrigue you to know that Zen practice is called the “gateless gate?)

    I love you all.

    Comment by Karen — November 19, 2007 @ 5:05 am

  6. i think i found your blog through mccabe’s but i’m not sure anymore. I do know that i love this post and will be back to read more of your writing!

    Comment by dreamergirl — November 19, 2007 @ 10:15 am

  7. This sounds like it could even bring about world peace. 🙂

    Comment by Shannon — November 19, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  8. It does in my world, Shannon, it really does. And whirled peas too.

    Comment by Karen — November 19, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  9. As so often when I read your blog, I feel like you are talking to me.

    What is home? In these life changes I contemplate, I wonder if my sense of home, of what draws me, of where I want to be, is just an illusion. When I have achieved what I think I want, will I only want something different?

    Thanks for the words to chew on, and congratulations on your inclusion in the book.

    Comment by RocketMom — November 19, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  10. Oh Karen, if only I could be confident that I could truly go HOME this year, especially with husband and new baby in tow. I would love to sit and eat with loved ones, with no expectations, judgment, comparisons, etc- just surrounded by love. But alas, some of our biggest family rifts have begun over the Thanksgiving table- and none have completely healed. I don’t know what it is- a combination of alcohol, football on TV (I’m from Cleveland- our team ALWAYS loses), turkey-grogginess, tension at being one-upped by family members that are richer, better educated, happier, etc., but every few years, someone cracks. As such I find myself both looking forward to and dreading this holiday. Here’s to this year being crack-free. 🙂

    Comment by Noisette — November 19, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  11. OK all you home-seekers. Here are some hints for arriving at the “true home” I speak of:

    1. It’s never outside of you.
    2. You are never away from it.
    3. If you don’t see it, you don’t see it even as you walk on it.
    4. Like it or not, everyone in it is an intimate relation.
    5. Although you never leave it, finding it is most certainly a journey.

    When you arrive, by all means ring the bell!


    Comment by Karen — November 19, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

  12. Thank you for this lesson. I came to your blog from Shauna at Up in the nite and I feel different, more contemplative since I have read your post. Thank you. Peace

    Comment by Kristi O — November 20, 2007 @ 1:42 am

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