You notice the silence first in the tiny village of Welsh Run, Pennsylvania. Sound never goes very far. It stays close by, clinging to you like the one-year-old on my shoulders with his arms wrapped around my head. I stood with my kids on the gravel shoulder of the road where I grew up. My three-year-old daughter suddenly gasped.
“Daddy, this is your house?”
“No, sweet girl, this was Daddy’s house. Other people live here now.”
“Daddy, can we go see it?”
“No. Not today.”
“Because it’s not Daddy’s home anymore.”
But at that moment, standing there with greening hedges between me and the small pile of red bricks, I could still feel a homeward tug. Like a kind of gravity tethered to my chest, pulling at the memories stitched into me.
The places we call home are like that—they have gravity. And it makes sense. Houses have an uncanny ability to collect stuff. After all, gravity is in part a function of mass—of stuff. Even when we move, we cart that stuff with us, and the couches, the framed pictures of our family, and endless boxes of books instantly create homeward gravity in any new location.
A house is where our stuff is.
But there’s more to it. Even after all of my stuff had been packed into boxes and shipped to three different states, there’s a reason I could stand in front of that old house and feel the pull.
I lived in the same place for seventeen years. Like the earth around the sun, my world—my life—revolved around that house. It was more than the gravity of my stuff that tugged me back into orbit even when on break from college.
Houses collect stuff, yes, but homes collect memories.
We make memories mostly by accident. And, like the stuff that fills our houses, we don’t even realize they’re gathering all around us.
Every piece of my childhood home is soaked with memories from those seventeen years of my life. I kept a near-permanent cloud of sawdust in the rough-finished basement. The table in the dining room bore the marks of five years of homeschooling. Couches came and went as we wore them out reading, sleeping, or wrestling.
My siblings and I wore all the grass off the hill with wagons, sleds, and bad lawn mowing jobs. We skated across the wood floors with socks coated in furniture polish, filling our feet with splinters. The paint on the walls never recovered from my attempts to cut in the corners.
Life passed day by day, year by year. Like it does for all of us. Old memories slipped quietly out the back door or behind the bookcases, and new memories crashed in through the window. The house kept gathering them. Memories created by people living cloistered for two decades.
But memories—unlike stuff—fade. Like melting snow, the longer you hold them the less there is to hold. As my siblings and I grew and left the house, we created fewer and fewer new memories to replace the dying ones. It’s the nature of growing up, really. A home’s gravity weakens so we can create new homes in a new solar system.
But now, five years since I’d last seen it, the house my daughter wanted to explore still tugged on me. It still had gravity, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why.
So we gazed a moment longer, then walked down the road to the old church that stood on the corner. Its white clapboard shone in the early afternoon sun and cast a shadow over the Revolutionary War-era cemetery squatting nearby.
My dad stood near the low stone wall, leaning on his cane and staring at the ground. There, surrounded by a hoard of daffodils, gleamed my mom’s headstone. We buried her there among the fallen of our country’s oldest wars because she loved the village. Living or dying, it was her home.
“The daffodils came out in force this year,” I muttered to my dad. The kids were riding headstones like horses.
“That’s ’cause I planted more.”
The Welsh Run silence settled in before my dad spoke again.
“There’s a line of them, actually. Or there was before we moved out.” He pointed his cane toward a gap in the wall. “All the way from here to our old front door. All the way home.”
Standing there in the April sun, I began to realize why that old house pulled so hard. When my mom died, my dad remarried and sold the house. Just like that, a place and a person that my life had spun around for so many years had winked out.
But the memories lingered, burned around the edges.
There are stars so heavy that, when they die, they form a type of black hole. Even emptiness has gravity. Nothingness—loss—can still tug at our chests and pull us closer. We call it nostalgia.
The home I lost still had gravity because it’d become a black hole for everything that made it a home. My memories, my dad’s memories, my brother’s and sister’s memories—they were all fading with time, and we couldn’t make new ones in that place.
My daughter’s memories of the Welsh Run house won’t recall a home—just a house with some trees and a pretty mailbox. My son won’t even remember that much—only that some gravestones make better rocking horses than others.
The memories we make will die—that’s part of our experience as human beings with a term limit. And, if we cannot continue to saturate a place with memories made with people we love, home will die too.
And that’s okay.
That day in the graveyard, I could feel nostalgia’s call—as if I could close my eyes and fall back into orbit. As if life had never changed. Almost. The house was still there—but changed. Compressed and foreign. Someone else’s car sat on the cracked blacktop. A fancy white mailbox had replaced the battered tin one. Even the trees were foreign to my memory.
For me, in that moment, it was a black hole. Still the same matter, the same gravity. Pulling, but not into safe orbit. Pulling, instead, into a kind of crushing pain. I wanted what I’d lost—more than anything. I wanted to sit on that porch and watch my mom walk the daffodil trail to the front door.
I wanted my home back.
In our hymnody, we often hear the plaintive cry for a home beyond—that this world is not our home. But I wonder, now, if that longing for something other isn’t the gravity of a black hole—nostalgia for something we lost when Eden died. So perfect was our home, we feel the gravity of its collapse still millennia later. But that’s the beginning of the story—not the end.
And that is the hope of our faith. That home lies behind and ahead.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:23–25)
Cover image by Jed Ostoich.