“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” -T.S. Eliot
After graduating from the University of Utah, I married my own California Prince Charming and we rode off together into the western sunset to begin our family. Lots of water under the bridge and seven baby births later, we received a calling that instigated our moving back to the home of my childhood, both figuratively and literally.
My husband’s call as a general authority almost certainly meant that we would be asked to move all over the world for the following nineteen years until my husband turned seventy. At that time, all seven of our children were single. After having spent a married lifetime working to establish cohesion for that grand group of intimates, the mother in me felt strongly about finding a home rather than renting one in Salt Lake City, which was the location of our first assignment. I wanted to have a place where we were able to hang those kids’ photos on the walls and they could potentially gather even if we were out of the country.
With my husband still practicing law and me teaching junior high school, our opportunity to carve out time for house hunting in Salt Lake City was limited. We dropped everything and flew to Salt Lake for a single day, hoping that the perfect landing place for our imminent move would miraculously become obvious to us. At the end of a very long day house hunting north, south, east, and west around and across the Salt Lake valley, we returned to the place we were staying and dropped onto the couch exhausted and discouraged until a thought occurred to us both almost simultaneously. Serving as voice, my husband suggested, “I wonder if your mother might want to sell us her home.”
He extended the suggestion almost sheepishly. In the first place, her home was not for sale. In the second, my teenage and young adult life in that home had been somewhat complicated. My father moved out when I was sixteen and my parents divorced when I turned twenty-one. My mother had other problems that made seasons of her life difficult.
In spite of the lump that immediately formed in my throat when my husband posed the purchase question, I couldn’t deny my having been thinking the same improbable thought. With that reality as mighty motivation, my wise husband deferred to whatever I determined to be my preference, and I began seeking some heavenly illumination. The home was located in a nice part of Salt Lake City with schools that would work for our youngest kids; the floor plan of that home was unmistakably workable for our needs; and the price point was reasonable. But I asked myself and heaven again and again, “Was I woman enough to choose to return to some of the complex memories provoked by that home?”
After considerable soul searching, I concluded I was, or at least I could be. We posed the possible sale question to my mother and to our surprise and delight, she promptly answered that it would actually be a relief for her to leave all the upkeep implications of maintaining her longtime dream home. She felt excited about moving to a neighborhood assisted living facility and anticipating breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared and served by others on clean linen tablecloths. We finalized the sale and began making plans to move ourselves and her.
After having found a reputable contractor, we returned to our more-hectic-than-ever lives in California and developed a near-constant communication with the man handling the remodel. The home was in its original 1957 condition. The again-trendy, mid-century modern architecture was appealing, but the deep avocado green shag carpet upstairs and down, the turquoise Formica on the kitchen countertops, and the matching turquoise linoleum on the kitchen floor may also have been, or soon became again, trendy, but I was not hip enough to preserve them. Other than those noisy cosmetic changes, we mostly simply freshened things up and were on our way.
We did our best to respectfully sort the belongings of our kids who were scattered around the world while we packed things belonging to the group of us who would be moving to SLC, then we supervised while movers loaded it all into a large truck in California and drove away. Shortly thereafter, we followed them east on I-15 on our way to what would be our new home.
We arrived at that home located on the east bench of Salt Lake City some hours after the truck had arrived. They had begun unpacking our things. During the drive across the desert, the sun had made its way across the sky and was beginning its descent into the western sky about to drop behind the Oquirrh Mountains and into the Great Salt Lake. We waited for a pause in the moving action then made our way up the familiar sidewalk leading into our new/old home. Admittedly, I walked uncharacteristically slowly. My mind was swirling with memories of my life before marriage. So many of those memories, both the joyful ones and the more complicated ones, had been made on the other side of that familiar front door.
When I finally entered that door and made my way across the entry space into the living room, I stopped abruptly. The whole western wall of that childhood home was floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked indigenous scrub oak trees in the backyard, the Salt Lake City skyline from Point of the Mountain on the far south, past the Salt Lake Temple and the Church Office Building downtown, to the State Capitol building and beyond to the north. The city lights were just beginning to twinkle, and the sun had dipped low enough to turn the sky over the Great Salt Lake to that famous Rocky Mountain sunset ripe apricot color. We had chosen to exchange the heavy curtains that had long covered those windows for tidy blinds that rolled tightly up revealing the whole spectacular view. It was all so breathtakingly beautiful.
I was home. I had worried that moving back into that story-filled space would be like picking scabs off wounds. I had lived happily for twenty-seven years in California away from constant, visceral contact with some of the thorniness of my younger life, but I feared that perhaps moving back into that home would be emotional rough riding. I felt pretty sure that any wounds were significantly healed, but I wasn’t totally confident that without the buffer of space, those wounds wouldn’t begin to bleed again.
I needn’t have worried. When I entered that reoriented space, the scabs did come off, but the old wounds didn’t bleed. I remembered still, but the pain was gone. Some of the old pocket doors made the same sounds they had sixty years earlier, and I remembered difficult things, but I remembered them with the grace of God and the blessing of Christ’s Atonement providing me increased perspective and understanding. There was no more pain.
An almost worn-away corner of concrete outside our kitchen door still bears a faint imprint of my small, six-year-old hand pressed into the wet concrete when I moved into that home as a child. Another, newer section of concrete bears a larger, more emphatic imprint of my fifty-year-old handprint pressed into replaced concrete forty-five years later. The larger handprint is stronger, more sure, more current and confident – something of a symbol of the promised effect of pressing on hand-in-hand with Christ. I love both handprints.
The very essence of the Atonement of Christ is an at-one-ment with ourselves, with each other, and with God. That sublime act of reconciliation was offered to make us holy and whole. The Atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to heal broken things: a crushed sense of self, a shattered relationship, a broken family, a distance from divinity. All things are made whole through Him. He wipes away all tears. With Him, we can joyfully return home – now and forevermore.
So – back to where I began: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Eliot