Something slipping out of my hands

The changing face of home

With spring break comes, at least for me and for many others, a pilgrimage back to the hometown. And that pilgrimage is not just through space, but through time—my hometown is not in the present, but in the past to which memory clings. The places are in the past—my high school, my old hangout spots, my childhood home—and the people whom I meet there are also in the past, only brought into the present and out of memory when I encounter them.

But, as much as I may wish it, time does not stay still while I am in exile, far from the fair city of Portland, Maine and its suburbs. My instinctive reaction to the changes to the place are to become a vicious reactionary, inveighing against all construction and renovation—but that impulse can only be taken so seriously. The people change too, and their relationships to the place and to each other and to me change, but I can hardly blame them for something so natural (I remember clearly the first time I referred to “my parents’ house,” and I do not think I have ever been as shocked by myself as I was when I realized what I had said). Since I spend so much of my time away from the place where I grew up, the change strikes me not as the gradual process which it is, but as something far more sudden, tinged, or so it seems, with menace.

There is no actual menace to it, of course, but the vague sense of unease it brings feels almost like a threat. Why are these people not as I remember them? Why are they building a new police station? Why am I older now? I was a boy when I was here.

It feels as though something is slipping away, just out of reach, and that feeling is magnified by my own inability to determine exactly what it is. Perhaps it is just a longing for childhood, and its attendant innocence and freedom from worry, or an acknowledgement that this place, which was everything I could have dreamed when I was small, turns out not to be perfect after all. But those, I think, are just part of the larger wrestling with impermanence that comes with any return. Nothing is ever just as you left it, or just as you last held it in your mind.

The hometown is, I grant, too easy sentimentalized, too easily romanticized and made into something that the place could never actually be. I do not think I am under any particularly strong illusions there—at a certain point you know the place well enough that you know its faults. But, for all its faults, it is still mine, it is still my hometown. When I put it like that it seems as if I were attempting to assert ownership of it against some other claimant, as if I were saying “no, this is mine—you have no power here.” It is wishful thinking, but of a very comfortable sort. And, despite any protestations, every change that happens, large or small, undermines the flimsy conceit that I can preserve things by claiming that I have the right to do so.

I cannot say it has so far allowed me to spare anything from the ravages of time, but the anger that motivates it fades quickly enough into a mellow appreciation of impermanence and its bittersweet beauty.

Quite a bit has changed since my first memories of the place, and quite a bit will continue to change. All the golden memories I have are only in my mind, and not in the place itself. And I find that the more I sit with that feeling of something slipping out of my hands, the more comfortable I am with it. It was never mine to hold in the first place. It would be like trying to hold a river in place—the water passes by, but the river remains, changing as it flows, until it meets a gentle annihilation in the sea.

Steve Larkin is a sophomore from Maine majoring in mathematics and classics. The only thing he loves more than scratching out his opinions is a good bowl of clam chowder. Steve can be contacted at slarkin@nd.edu.

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