I have taken my own advice and, after finishing Swallows and Amazons last week, slipped away for a socially-distanced lakeside getaway with my family. You may well ask what we’re getting away from, living as we do in such a quiet corner of the world. I admit that I too once believed that life was slower, more peaceful, less frantic in the country. Now I can assure you that we have deadlines, quotas, disasters, and mind-numbing paperwork just like our urban counterparts. We can only boast a better view and less traffic.
For the first year or two after we started milking cows it was impossible to get away, but now that things are more established there are a few opportunities in the summer when we can entrust everything into the capable hands of a relief milker and take some much-needed time off. When those blissful days approach each year, there is one place I want to go, and it’s an old home that is near and dear to my heart.
It’s a bittersweet fact of having moved about: one is never entirely at home again. I love where we’ve put down our roots, but it will never be as intimate as the town where I grew up. And of all the familiar ways in between, I miss the brick sidewalks of Ohio University; the heavy smell of magnolia blossoms in rural South Carolina; the steady wash of the tide on the beaches of Southern California. I have left good people, fond memories, and a little piece of my heart in every place I have ever lived, and I will never be quite whole again. But one beloved haunt holds a place none other can claim, and that is the seminary where my husband prepared for ministry prior to our conversion.
We are fortunate, after all our roaming, to have settled near enough to visit “The House” every once in a while. To this day, I breathe a sigh of peace whenever we enter the gates of the place where we spent three years as a new family preparing for a life of service. Things have changed, but my sense of homecoming here has never been rivaled.
What is it about this place? The great stone archways, the shade of the mighty oak trees, the sound of the Angelus bell? Why is it, forever and always, home? I ask myself, as I gaze in hushed adoration on these familiar walls. And I answer myself: because it is so beautiful.
And it is beautiful: achingly beautiful; but it didn’t have to be. The missionaries who came to this wilderness could have built a school that was thoroughly serviceable and utterly nondescript, and who could have blamed them? But instead they built a place of formation, where the soul as well as the mind is nurtured and fed.
The school has been faithful to this mission for almost two hundred years. No one is meant to stay here; it is a place of preparation. But as such, it takes great care to impart a legacy that its sons and daughters will carry on to the furthest reaches of the Kingdom of God.
Our work did not take us where we first intended. But it did bring us closer to coming home to the Catholic Church, with a firmer grasp on our first vocation as spouses and parents. Now we labor to bring up our family on a farm; and as a first-generation endeavor, there is never enough time or money to do everything we would like to do with it. After three years, it’s just beginning to function properly. We can even manage a short vacation between hay crops. It has a natural, God-given beauty, and I am thankful for it.
And yet, like my own soul, there is so much work to be done. All the pruning and trimming that will properly cultivate this stewardship of ours awaits our careful attention. I don’t just want our piece of land to function, or even thrive. I want to create something of lasting beauty, a place that forms my children’s souls before they go on to their own callings. I want to make a home.
Today I must leave this well-worn, hallowed place, and return to my own calling. It will be all too easy to think of the loveliness I have left behind; but how much better would it be to plan what beauties I will intentionally leave behind in the garden I have been given to tend? Stories that enrich my children’s imaginations, and food that delights their senses; a safe, if simple, place to rest after a day’s labors, and the prayer life that makes these chores a wholesome sacrifice. And I’m thinking now that I might sow some wildflowers on that rocky hillside where nothing will grow but the thistles, to make a garden for the butterflies. It will take time, but good things always do.