“I drove past my old house,” I told my partner, John. “It still has the windows and roof I replaced. But they painted it beige.” It used to be yellow.
John smiled. “I drove past my old house, too. The front porch deck I built is gone. There are giant bushes out front. I’d take them out if I were them.” John’s a gardener and overgrown bushes matter.
Jungian analyst and author, James Hollis, writes that when we search for the “magical other,” our soul mate, that person who will make our lives whole again, we are trying to go home. That is, trying to return to the womb, that warm, safe place where every need is met, through no effort of our own. This “going home project,” as Hollis defines it in The Eden project: The search for the magical other, inevitably leads to disappointment. It’s unreasonable to expect another person to provide a surrogate womb, but you can recapture the grounding represented by home, regardless of where you live, who you’re with, or how much has changed.
The second half of life
Having moved from Michigan to Oregon more than twenty years ago, I now consider Oregon my home and cannot imagine living anywhere else. Oregon suits me. I love its climate, natural beauty, and laidback lifestyle. In 1998, as I prepared to leave the suburbs of Detroit where I’d spent most of my life, my family and friends asked me why I chose to head west. I said things like, “Oregon is where the veggie burger was born;” and “They have the perfect climate for growing roses.” Never mind that I’m neither a vegetarian nor a gardener.
The truth? At age thirty-nine, I was entering the second half of life that Hollis writes about throughout his work, and particularly in Finding meaning in the second half of life; How to finally, really grow up. And I needed to find myself. I needed answers to the questions that we asked ourselves as teenagers, when our bodies and brains were morphing from those of familiar children into alien adults; the questions we debated as college students trying on existentialism, like our first pair of high heels. Ankles wobbling, I needed to know who I was and why I was here. Hollis writes that we knew the answers as children, but that the roads to adulthood, with their norms and expectations, cause us to forget. The “second half of life” described by Hollis isn’t always about chronological age. It can be precipitated by a crisis, such as loss of a home, job, relationship, or loved one. Such losses force us to stop, if only for a moment, and re-examine our choices.
Fate favors the risk taker
When courage accompanies such moments, they could augur a more authentic existence. In my case, that “courage” came in the form of an insistent husband (now ex-husband). Having spent twelve years working at an information technology company in what I considered a secure job (i.e. good benefits, living wage and collegial atmosphere), I did not find my career particularly satisfying. Even so, had he not insisted, I wouldn’t have quit my job, uprooted our three-year-old daughter, and moved two thousand miles away from family and the friends I’d cultivated over thirty years.
I wasn’t that brave.
Funny thing about bravery, regardless of its origin. Once you take that leap (even if you’re pushed), the universe signals whether or not you’re on the right path. First, my brother Greg and his wife (now ex-wife) decided at the eleventh hour to move with us. I’m one of twelve children, so this small contingent, which would barely be missed in Michigan, made an enormous difference to me in Oregon. Second, halfway through our four-day journey out west, a colleague sent an email informing me that the company closed the department I’d just left and many of our coworkers were laid off. So much for job security.
“Fate favors the risk taker,” became my mantra. After ten months in Portland, we landed jobs on the Oregon coast. Living next to the ocean had been a fantasy for most of my adult life, perhaps because of my name, Marinelli, which means little sailor in Italian. With the Pacific Ocean as our backdrop, we raised our daughter in a tight-knit, rural community surrounded by caring adults, curious children, magical forests, the coastal range and miles of public beaches.
Domenica the spy inspired by “Harriet the Spy”
Although we set up house just after my fortieth birthday, this is where I grew up. This is where I got sober; worked at a domestic violence intervention agency, where I learned a language that helped me understand how I’d allowed myself to be caged by sexism; and discovered Jungian theory, which continues to help me identify and address the invisible forces at work that animate me, and that sometimes make me dance to someone else’s tune.
Back to Self
That journey is a kind of going home, the kind that leads to ever expanding avenues and the discovery of hidden portals back to Self. John and I traveled to Michigan to spend a few days at his family cottage near the great Lake Michigan, as well as visit relatives and friends. I spent time with my best friend Lesa, whose father recently died. I attended his celebration of life and walked through his now-empty house as the realtor prepared for its sale; a house where I spent most of my teenage and young adult years swimming in their backyard pool, angsting over the meaning of life and drinking beer from their built-in keg. Lesa brought out photos of a trip our twenty-year-old selves took to Europe. In one of those photos, Paris’s Seine River flowed behind me. I wore a black turtleneck and an expression of wonder that I’d long since forgotten. It unexpectedly whispered to me, “She’s still with me.” I felt gratitude for her bravery because that trip made me realize that there was a whole world out there, beyond my little Detroit suburb, and that I could be a part of it. It made me realize that I had choices.
I also spent time with Sara and Debbie, my gang at the IT company that shuttered our department. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but the moment I walked into the café, time vanished, and memories washed over us. We’d worked and played together for twelve years, sharing successes and heartaches, both personal and professional. These women were there with me during a particularly acute heartbreak and helped me put myself back together. I will never forget Sara pulling into my driveway in her red Corvette convertible on a sun-filled Saturday afternoon and rustling me from my depressed sleep to take a drive. Although I resisted because it meant leaving my bed and getting dressed, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Moments like that helped me emerge from the darkness and forge a different life. They remembered what I remembered. They were there. Being grounded together in those shared memories felt like going home.
John and I no longer own those Michigan homes, but their memories are still with us. The now-beige nine hundred square-foot house was my first. It was the home where my pregnant-self sobbed as I ironed diapers, thinking how much I must love this child if I was ironing her diapers. Later, its sale made it possible to start life anew in Oregon. John’s now-deckless, three-bedroom house was his first. It was the official site of the infamous Bungie Fest. (John proved that you could fashion a festival around anything – even a bungie cord.) Its rooms-for-rent helped him emerge from law school virtually debt-free. In the words of his mother, Carmela: “Those homes don’t owe us a thing.”
But what do we owe them? Gratitude. To be remembered. And the occasional drive-by.
Staying in the room
As for the “going home project” described by Hollis, John and I reconnected after twenty-seven years apart. The heartbreak that Sara and Debbie helped me heal resulted from our break-up all those years ago. But something inside both of us longed to be together. In our first half of life, we had conflicting priorities and timetables. Today, our priorities are the same. Together, we want to become the best versions of ourselves as individuals and as a couple. That takes honesty, risk, courage, and perseverance. It requires sorting through our messes, individually and collectively, and committing to staying in the room while we do it. Returning to the womb is not an option. We cannot live each other’s journeys nor carry each other’s burdens. But we can show up – and stay there.
Now that feels like going home.
I would love to know what going home means to you.