That's why I picked this place for a few days of vacation, because I thought it would be homey. For the first time in my life, I have completely unpacked my suitcase for a hotel stay.
I flew out to attend a conference at my school, where I saw friends and reconnected with my community of mythologists. It had been six months since I was there, but when I drove through the foothills to campus Thursday evening, it was like I had only been gone a week. I visited both of our campuses, where almost every corner was packed with memories of friends, teachers, animated conversations, long walks, and work accomplished. It felt like part of me had been there all along, waiting, and got up to meet me when I came back.
A theme that came up in numerous talks with friends over the last few days was the archetype of home, which may (or may not) seem strange since most of us were far from our actual homes. I had lunch today with three women, and it turned out all of us were yearning at some level to find our place in the sun, though there were good reasons for not making changes right now. I have wondered for a long time if California might be that place for me. Visiting is not the same as living here, I'm only too aware. I've spent a lot of time out here looking around, wondering how I would feel about this beautiful place if I lived here all the time.
As it happened, I stopped this afternoon to visit a town I came close to living in seven years ago. I had dropped in to visit on the way to the conference and was so intrigued by what I found that I stopped again on the way back. What I remembered as a very quiet place, almost dead on the weekend, was buzzing with people and energy. I found a Main Street on a human scale, numerous shops and restaurants (all open on a Sunday), people relaxing in sidewalk cafes, music pouring out of competing venues, even a place to buy chocolates. The friendly baristas at the local Starbucks wished me an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday" when I went in for my free drink; I sat and read for a while, with a window on the passing scene.
I went into a store I remembered visiting seven years ago, a shop full of angel gifts. The same shopkeeper was still there, a lively lady who just happened to be telling other customers about a local church labyrinth. I told her about my dissertation, and she grew even more excited, telling me about her experiences with the labyrinth and those of people she knew. She gave me her card and asked me to email her and tell her what happened to me when I walked it.
I followed her very good directions and got to the church not long before sunset. The gate was unlocked like she said, so I went in and gathered my thoughts. It was a very soft, somehow feminine labyrinth, in shades of rose and pink stone. I walked slowly, enjoying the meditative rhythm and the quiet. When I got to the center, I paused for a few minutes, thinking about all my unanswered questions. Then I turned and faced each of the four directions, noting what I saw there (I will tell you: a fountain and a tree, a hospital, a set of double doors, and a light next to a tree). When I left, the sky was streaked with the pinks and violets of a beautiful sunset.
Will the turning of my life take me to that spot again? I don't know, but I'm interested.
Naturally, it's no accident that I'm writing about wanderers turning this way and that. Theseus, Odysseus, Dante, Lancelot, Ishmael, William -- they're all looking for something and may or may not end up where they began. For some of them, the end result might be, as T.S. Eliot says, "to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." Others will land in some different country, or perhaps never find True North. I hope the latter isn't true for me; I made a birthday wish (which I wrote down and ritualized) that I would find my right place and be wise enough to know it when I see it.
Birthday wishes have extra mana, right? Especially if sealed with chocolate.