The seatbelt cut into my chin and my jellied feet dangled above the floor. If we were coming home from gymnastics practice, my hands and hair would be covered in white chalk and I’d still be sporting a velvet leotard that I would probably not even take off to sleep that night. If we were coming home from the neighborhood pool, we’d still be suited up, seated atop damp beach towels, our shoulders would be pink and the bridges of our noses would boast both a smattering of new freckles and a fresh goggles indentation. If it was any other occasion, I’d probably be wearing my favorite purple sweatshirt with a cat on the front paired with a matching purple sweatskirt—yes, they made sweatskirts in the 80s.
Even if we’d been driving just a few minutes, I’d already be able to hear my younger brother’s sleepy breathing and the punching of buttons as my older brother battled evil forces on the glow of his Gameboy.
As the car swayed back and forth through the winding roads, I wouldn’t be sleeping or playing, I’d be dutifully staring out the side window.
I was still so small, so low in the car seat that I had to crane my neck to see above the child lock and power window buttons to the outside world. And even then I could only see sky, the green-tinged points of pine trees, the triangle tops of shingled roofs on two-story homes, spiky tv antennas, sweeping power lines, and the concave dip of the few satellite dishes that speckled the neighborhood in the early 90s.
It would all pass by in a lightening fast (for a five-year-old) blur of 25mph. We could be anywhere: coming back from a friend’s house, carpooling from gymnastics, or with my dad making the long trek home from Circuit City (which I always thought was a city in Utah). From my vantage point, the scenery was indistinguishable, a blur of meaningless shapes and colors.
We could have been anywhere. Hours from home. Minutes from home. I never knew.
Until I spotted the gnarled branches of an old oak tree that stretched into my line of sight: the Remembering Tree.
The Remembering Tree stood out among the forest of pines that lined the winding roads of my small Northern California neighborhood. Even in the dark, I could make out its distinctive bough clumped with patches of moss and mistletoe, and I would know we were almost home. The Remembering Tree was three houses down from my own house, closer even than the bus stop.
As soon as I saw the tree, I’d breathe a sigh of relief and settle in to my seat. I’d lean my head against the passenger door and shut my eyes in feigned sleep with hopes that my dad would carry me in to my bed.
We’ve long since moved away from the house beyond the Remembering Tree. But I haven’t forgotten the concept. I still seek out signs and symbols for security, safety, and a sense of home.
Now, instead of scanning for scarred branches, I memorize poetry. It sounds pretentious, but I assure you it stems not from a haughty, artistic elitism, but from the childlike need for familiarity in a rushing world.
I’ve developed the habit of repeating poetry at the end of every long run I take. As I round the corner or approach the front steps to my house, the same words release themselves from my lips, practically unbidden.
When I repeat the words of my favorite poets, like T.S. Eliot (And the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing) or ee cummings (i thank you god for most this amazing day), when I say the same words in the same order time after time, I dwell in the words like I used to dwell in the branches. And, even if I’m miles and countries away from where I started, I’m reminded that home, and the One who makes His home in me, is much closer than I think.