This past week I was working in upstate New York helping roll out a new Web site for our denomination as well as moble/tablet apps, streaming the conference to fifteen countries in two languages, covering the conference and more. Â It was an amazingly crazy week with solid wins for our organization. Â To say I’m proud of my team is an understatement. Â The best part is that this all took place in my hometown. Everyone has a hometown. Â Mine is Rochester, NY.
I spent the first eleven years of my life on Sycamore St. Â It’s a small neighborhood in the city, close to downtown. Â The homes on Sycamore Street have detached garages accessible to an alley.Â They are small and cozy.Â There are no back decks, only front porches.Â No such thing as acreage.Â It’s community.Â Sycamore street and Rochester hold many great memories for me.
- I remember as a kid killing time by “painting the house”. Â It was ceramic siding and changed color with water
- I remember a snow storm that covered our first story windows and I was jumping off the roof of the garage into snow banks
- I remember the beginning of my love affair with Buffalo Wings
- I remember getting roller skates as a gift so I could skate with all of the other kids (Remember the 80’s?)
- I remember no matter where I was, if I did something I wasn’t supposed to, somehow my mom knew before I stepped in the house
- I remember the Co-Op, a hippie-owned food store with weird food like tofu my parents tried out in the 70’s
- I remember cutting and stacking wood for our wood stove with my dad
- I remember making pots with an old man named Arturo who allowed the neighbor kids access to his clay, kiln, and life
- I remember the tenderness of my mother as I struggled with some physical challenges.
- I remember Country Sweet wings
- I remember 4th of July fireworks and the Rochester Symphony at Manhattan Square Park
- I remember riding the monorail inside Santa’s “mountain” and sitting on Santa’s lap in Midtown Plaza after my first ride in an elevator
- I remember hearing the “F-word” and deciding to ask my mom what it meant during a pastoral visit to our home
- I remember my school, PS 35, just down the street from Old Man Keller and his penny candy store where I could buy Sweedish fish
- I remember Cobbs Hill park
- I remember the Yatteaus accross the street. Â Mr. Yatteau always called me “Jason the Mason.” Â He would take old pennies and buff them to shine with some machine in his basement so I could buy candy.
- I remember we had a light blue VW bug and orange VW van with a really bad heater.
- I remember playing with my sister in the attic.
- I remember the lilac festival at Highland park
- I remember enjoying bagels from the Jewish deli down the road that sold bagels before they were in every supermarket
- I remember the smell of my father’s pipe and his smile
We all have a hometown. Â We all have a place where we’re rooted somehow. As our team arrived outside the city, I took off for a few hours to get quiet and thought I’d drive by the old neighborhood. Â It was still there – smaller than how I remembered it.
Funny how when you’re small everything is big, but when your big, everything is small.
Memories and Longing
As I walked to the street, I saw an old couple sitting on their front porch. Â I didn’t recognize them. Â They didn’t recognize me. Â I had the sudden urge to talk to them to try to connect somehow. Â After mustering up the courage, I did. Â Turns out, the family had lived there for forty years. Â We talked for 20-30 minutes on the past, how things change and how they stay the same. Â Then I went down the street for a walk. I walked up to my house and stood for awhile.Â I drank in the memories I had forgotten over time but connected with as I stood by the familiar white picket fence and remembered how I had accidentally dropped my Chewbacca action figure into a piece of the neighbors chain linked fence.Â I looked at the windows and yard and tried to remember how it looked on the inside.Â As I walked, I was stirred with great memories of our little neighborhood park, playtime in the summer, and my best friend Jimmy who lived behind us and gave me “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” as a gift I still have today. Â Deeper still, I felt connected to something. Â Not just fond memories. Â I felt connected to a community. Â A place I belonged. Â Rooted.Â My hometown.Â My neighborhood.Â |Â Flickr Photoset
Familiar, Yet Foreign
As I drove back to the conference, work, demands, and expectations of my life in the present, I was struck by these thoughts and feelings. Â I was also reminded of the familiarity of the place. Â I hadn’t been there in fifteen years, but somehow I knew where I was. Â I didn’t know exactly how to get there, but I did. Â It was home. Â With the windows down in my car on a hot summer day, I took joy in driving through city traffic – familiar, yet foreign.Â I wondered in that moment if that’s what heaven’s going to be like: Â Familiar yet foreign. Â How the heart longs to be connected to something. Â Anchored. Â I think our hearts are really longing for a deep love from our Abba in heaven and we just don’t know it. Â Or don’t receive it at least. Â Regardless, on this side of heaven, it felt good to reconnect to a place where I belonged, and the thing all of us have only one of: Â a hometown.
What about you? Â What does the idea of hometown do for you? Â Did your hometown shape who you are today? Â How does the idea of hometown connect with our built-in desire for heaven?