“The luckiest man in the world is home.”
For 32 Chicago years, I’ve spoken these words as I’ve entered the door, returning home from work.
The greeting began when I was a newlywed living in a Norwood Avenue two-flat. Partly whimsical, partly an expression of the genuine sense of wonder I felt at coming home to someone who had chosen to share life with me, these words of return became an unexpected tradition.
The greeting followed us to a one-bedroom apartment on North Shore Avenue, where our first birth child joined us, and then to a six-flat on Newgard Avenue, where a second child, born to a brown-skinned mother 9,000 miles away, made us a family of four. The whimsy of the words was now gone, replaced by the weariness of a demanding job and sleepless nights. But a sense of gratitude, rooted in a young family’s shared journey, replaced it.
After 10 years of marriage and rented front doors, the greeting found a home in the Highland Avenue house where we have lived the last 22 years. Another birth child, and another child born to another brown-skinned mother 9,000 miles away, swelled our family to six. The words now found fulfillment in the prancing footsteps of children who gleefully assaulted me with knee-high hugs before I had a chance to take off my coat. As years passed, the hugs were exchanged for requests for help with homework, then for request for rides, and finally requests for car keys. Sometimes, when the fullness of life became too full, I spoke the words as a reminder to myself, to regain my balance.
Over time, as life’s cuts and scrapes accumulated, the weight, the gravity of the phrase, shifted from “luckiest” to “home.” I was no less lucky (which to me had never meant roll-of-the-dice good fortune, but a cradled-ness that could not be accounted for solely by my birthline, life choices, and work ethic). I was just more sobered by the brokenness of the world in which I lived, and more understanding of the haven I had at home.
Home was the place I returned; the border I crossed when returning from an alien land; Dylan’s shelter from the storm, even in the midst of responsibilities that rained down; not virtual but actual reality; my mirror, my muse, my stage, my perfect and spoiled Eden, my playground, my laboratory, my judge, my masterwork, and my tombstone’s epithet.
At 56, I’ve now had a mother die at 67, and a brother die at 36. I’ve watched cancer shrink a co-worker to the size of a child before finally burying him. I’ve had one friend murdered, and several friends who have taken their lives, or perhaps had their lives taken by wounds that could not be healed. Thanks to life in cyberspace, I’ve witnessed, fatigued and distant, a globe’s worth of suffering.
I expect I will say my lifelong words of return for many more years to come. But today, I often think of the day when I will say them one last time in a new city, one without tears or night, as I sit down under the shade of the branches of a tree whose leaves will heal the nations, and heal me.
S Holler continues to call 60660 home, where he remains the luckiest man in the world. He spends his days as a real estate lawyer in Chicago.