Aug 17, 2021

In Good Faith: Hometown Hauntings

In my August In Good Faith column (written on vacation!), I write about visiting my hometown of Baltimore and a Bruce Springsteen song I can't get out of my head.

                                                            Hometown Hauntings

Maybe it’s because his daughter won a medal in equestrian at the Tokyo Olympics. Or perhaps

it’s because I was back home in Baltimore last week visiting my family. But either way, I haven’t been able to get Bruce Springsteen’s song “My Hometown” off his Born in the USA album out of my head this week.

Granted, it’s not the most uplifting track. It’s quite haunting actually, as it tells the now familiar story of an old manufacturing town racked by economic woes and racial strife. By the last verse, the narrator has made the decision to move his own young family out of his “hometown” to seek opportunity elsewhere.

I’m not trying to depress you here. But there is always a strong dose of nostalgia, and even some regret, when we visit our hometowns. There’s often great joy, too, of course. I loved being with my family and watching the five cousins joyfully interacting with one another. Nothing beats that. 

But when you return to a place you haven’t lived for 25 years, there is a tangible sense of loss when reflecting on those no-longer-there places that make up your earliest memories. 

When I drive by the little league field of dreams where I played a mean shortstop for the Bulldozers and see luxury condos, it hurts a little. When I pass my favorite ice cream shop and notice it’s become a dentist’s office, that’s painful. It’s not that we want to live in the past — life goes on, change is inevitable. But it can’t help but feel as if a small part of us has died along the way, a part that we’ll never get back.

Not to be overly dramatic about, say, Jimmy’s Restaurant closing in Fell’s Point (I still can’t believe that one), but it’s okay to take a moment to grieve such losses. To reminisce with old friends and family members about the places and people that meant so much to us, once upon a time. And to remember that it’s not really about the buildings themselves, but about those with whom we shared the experiences.

The kaleidoscope of cherished memories makes up a strong part of our identity, which is precisely the pull of a return to our hometown. It may be bittersweet — memories can be both life-giving and soul-trampling. But, taken together, they help form who we are as individuals.

The good news is that wherever life takes you, whether you’ve stayed in your hometown or moved away, God loves you for who you are. No matter where you’ve gone or what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, God loves you. And I don’t think   it’s possible to ever state that enough.

They say home is where the heart is. Which, when you think about it, offers great freedom to those of us who have left the places of our early roots. Your heart moves with you. Yet even knowing that, it’s okay to acknowledge that a piece of our heart may well remain behind. 

And I still can’t believe I’ll never again eat a BLT at Jimmy’s Restaurant.

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