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Homeward Bound

(Sound of a phone ringing)
“You’d better get home right away!”
At first I didn’t even recognize the voice. Thoughts raced by in my mind – an image of myself as a young boy, being told to get home, because it was late, and I was going to get in trouble – a feeling like panic rose in my stomach – then the meaning of the words slowly came into focus in my mind, and the voice turned into that of my younger brother.
He had gone home, to Ohio, to the house where we grew up. He was visiting Mom. Just a couple of weeks earlier, we had received a world-shaking message – that our Mom had a brain tumor and that it was inoperable.
I hadn’t flown home right away, because I had just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean. It had been a family reunion – except that my Mom and Dad couldn’t make it at the last minute. Mom had fallen in the church parking lot – fallen hard right on her face after getting out the car. The fall had broken her glasses. Talking with her later, she said that she didn’t want to put her arms out in front of her because she didn’t want to break her wrists. My Dad had rushed her to the emergency room, and she had X-rays. She hadn’t broken anything, but had banged herself up really badly, and the Doctor advised her not to go on the cruise until they saw how she healed and they ran some more tests. She had had a concussion from the fall, and didn’t really have her balance. My Mom didn’t go on the cruise. She stayed home. Dad had stayed home with her, the love of his life for 50+ years. The seven children and their families had gone ahead with the cruise that they had been planning for almost a year.

“You’d better get home right away!”
Fear rose up inside me like a ghost on Halloween. My younger brother had never spoken like this to me before – ever. And then the words drove home – “Mom’s dying.”

I packed a bag of clothes while my wife asked questions. I told her that I was leaving right away. It was already getting dark. My wife asked if I should wait until morning. I just looked at her.
“Where’s my suit?” I had a vision of a funeral, and all I had packed was jeans. I knew Mom wouldn’t find that appropriate. The sinking feeling in my stomach sank a bit lower. By the time I threw the bag in my truck at the beginning of the 1600-mile drive to Ohio, I was almost numb. Even number than when I had watched the twin towers in New York City fall just the week before. I hugged my wife. I hugged my 4-year-old son. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.” And I got in my truck and drove into the darkest night of my life, headed east out of Montana. Headed home.

Somewhere in North Dakota, I started to cry. The adrenaline that had risen to replace the numbness had faded as I recalled my Mom’s face again and again – reliving stories from my youth as I drove through the darkness.
There was the time when I had run home from grade school as a young boy, fighting back tears as I told my Mom that I didn’t have any friends. She had comforted me and told me that everything was all right. With my eyes closed tightly against the tears I heard her say:
“I will always love you.”

There was the time that I had run away from home at the end of a relationship with my high school sweetheart. I had hitchhiked my way out to the highway leading south from the town that I grew up in. I was fighting back tears that time, too, as I walked along the highway in the dark of night. It had started to rain. A car passed me and pulled over. I welcomed the ride. It turned out to be my Mom. Somehow she had known that something was wrong. She hadn’t heard me leave the house, but somehow she had known, and somehow she had found me out on that highway.
“I will always love you,” she said.

By the time the sun began to show a bit of its light, I was crossing into Minnesota. It was beautiful as it rose out of the darkness, green fields and trees and water everywhere. I could feel the warmth of the sunrise melting the darkness in my open heart. Life was returning to the planet. It was a long day of driving across Minnesota, Wisconsin and down into Illinois. The sunlight was fading as I waited in the long lines at the Toll Booths in Chicago. The lights of the Sears Tower sparkled in the evening dusk, promising that there was beauty even in the darkness. I drove across the corner of Indiana and finally started into Ohio, driving through the dark past towns with names that I remembered from my youth – Bowling Green, where my Brother went to college; Findlay, where I played my first high school tennis match; Carey, where I drank my first beer.
It was raining when I reached the house and pulled into the driveway. I stopped the truck and turned off the headlights and stared at the garage door. I had grown up here, playing basketball in the driveway with friends (yes, I had discovered that I did have friends.) I turned towards the house. There was a light on in the kitchen, and I saw a face there. I thought at first that it was my Mother’s face. It was the window that seemed to always hold the face of my Mother as she watched her children playing in the yard.
But this was my brother’s face, welcoming me home.

Two months later, I stood at a lectern in front of a room crowded with people, all there to honor my Mom at her passing - all there remembering her face and her love in their lives. High school friends were there. They had reminded me how my Mom had made them feel at home in her house, feeding them and talking to them even when I wasn’t there. How she had reminded them that they were loved.
“You are unique,” she had said.
I had planned to end my tribute to my Mom by turning to her casket and saying, “Mom, you were unique. I will always love you.” But words failed me. I wasn’t a Toastmaster then. I fumbled through some words and sat down. I was thinking ‘God, why can’t I say what I feel!’ Or maybe it was more like:
(Turning head upwards with hands outstretched)
“God, why can’t I say what I feel?”


And even now, a Voice answers me. I can’t make out Who It Is, but the words are familiar:
“You’d better get home right away!”

Memorial to Your Mother

Dear SpiritVoice1,

When you gave this talk, there could not have been a dry eye in the audience.

Powerful evocative writing.

God bless you.

With love,