Leaving my hometown once again
This is my hometown. -- Bruce Springsteen Thomas Wolfe is not read much these days, yet the title of his final novel remains part of our lexicon, "You can't go home again." You occasionally hear people toss this off as a bit of wisdom, but it see...
This is my hometown. - Bruce Springsteen
Thomas Wolfe is not read much these days, yet the title of his final novel remains part of our lexicon, "You can't go home again." You occasionally hear people toss this off as a bit of wisdom, but it seems puzzling. Of course you can go home again. We do it all the time. I left Duluth following my wedding in 1982, but returned in 2005 to become the pastor of First United Methodist (copper-top church). I came home again.
Perhaps, though, Wolfe was saying something like what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said long ago, "You can't step into the same river twice." The point he made, and perhaps the point in the title of Wolfe's novel, is that time changes things. The river you stepped in yesterday is not exactly the same river you might wade in today. It has changed. The hometown you left in 1982 is not exactly the same place you returned to in 2005. Nor are you the same person you were back then.
When I left Duluth in 1982, our economy was struggling mightily. Young people like me were leaving in droves. I left a young man with a high school diploma from Duluth East, a college degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth and a year of seminary completed. I returned a father of three with a Ph.D. and years of experience as a pastor. I found Duluth doing well, not perfectly, but well. Our economy is not working well for all, but it is working better than in 1982. We still struggle with racial equality and educational equity, but groups are working hard on change. Duluth has a wonderful can-do and caring spirit. Its leaders do a remarkable job of listening to the community. They are accessible. At our best we care for each other, we care about our children, we care for our education and health systems, we care about the quality of our environment and we are open to the voices of our faith communities. I am proud to call Duluth my hometown. I cherish our people and I cherish these values. Coming home, it's a delight to see how those values have developed and it has been a joy to contribute something to those values.
At the end of his novel, Wolfe wrote these beautiful words: "Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken to me in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: 'To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you have, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth - whereon the pillars of the earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending - a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.'"
I am not dying, but I am leaving again. Sometimes life requires following rising winds and flowing rivers that take us elsewhere and the hope is that our lives will be enlarged. I was recently elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church and was assigned to serve the Michigan area. I go treasuring my latest sojourn in my hometown. I go carrying with me in my heart good friends and the joy of a caring, can-do community. I will be back for visits and maybe someday more permanently. You will be different. I will be different. Yet I hope that core values of caring, community and accessibility remain, grow and flourish. Thank you and farewell.
David A. Bard is a husband, father, pastor, teacher and ethicist who was raised and educated in Duluth. He returned to the community in 2005 after being away for more than 20 years. Recently elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church, he is headed to Michigan. This is his final column for the Budgeteer.