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Seventy years, day by day

Posted by Ron George on April 8, 2017

It’s the Journey, by Susan Olsen

The metaphor works because we live our lives one day at a time; and so, it’s a journey – of sorts.

Actually, we live moment to moment but with remarkable capacities for recalling the past and anticipating the future. We tell ourselves stories in both directions: Of the past, we construct meaning; and of the future, we construct hope.

We tell stories, day by day.

It’s hard to say when our stories begin, because they’re so contingent upon chance and circumstance. My birthday is April 9, 1947, but millennia of incidents and accidents led to that moment in a maternity ward in Corpus Christi, Texas, when I – and not someone else – emerged from my mother’s womb, where my life actually had begun nine months earlier, when my newlywed parents lived in San Diego, Calif.

Not long after I was born – three months or so – Mom and I were on a plane to San Francisco to live with Dad, a U.S. Marine Corps first lieutenant, who had just returned from an overseas deployment. So began our life as transients in the train of a career officer. My two sisters were born on the opposite coasts of America. Until Dad retired, in 1967, no place really felt like home, except to the extent that Mom made our houses homey.

It was really rather odd, given that Mom and Dad had been reared in place, so to speak: Dad was born in Harlingen (1921) and reared in San Benito, Texas; Mom was born in Salado, Texas, (1923) and didn’t move to Corpus Christi until she was graduated from high school. It wasn’t uncommon for their generation; World War II displaced millions of people.

Mom once told me she was terrified by the prospect of living far from home – her family – and that she felt wholly unequipped and immature. Dad, on the other hand, had learned overconfidence in the Marines, which worked most of the time. He left San Benito and seldom returned to visit his parents; however, once retired, he hated to travel. He’d had enough of that, he said, living overseas without his wife and children.

Spiritual Journey, by Kathy Woodworth

Dad did his best to keep us in place when his duty assignments changed – we lived in the same house in Virginia while he changed assignments four times – but there was no escaping the transient sense of our family life. My life’s journey, then, really looked like one. I went to primary and secondary school in three states spread coast-to-coast – California, Texas and Virginia.

I’ve often wondered what I was looking for when I became captivated by The Episcopal Church in 1965. Church was a habit in our home, and I liked being there, but it wasn’t a compelling theme in our family life. The kids said grace before meals. Mom sang in the choir and went to church-women’s meetings. Dad wasn’t much of a churchgoer, but he did play on the church softball team.

Then I went to college in Fort Worth (TCU) and was invited to church by a recent convert. The Methodist church had always felt comfortable, but The Episcopal Church felt like home. Almost immediately, to borrow Peter Berger’s turn of phrase, I wanted to become a meaningful member of this meaningful group. I was confirmed on Ascension Day, 1966, in the spring of my freshman year.

I had not lived in my hometown for almost 20 years when I began living in The Episcopal Church, so to speak. The church became my home, my reference point, the standpoint from which I interpreted my life and the world. In 1968, I married the mother of our five children, whom I met at church. We went to seminary in 1973, returned to Texas in 1976 and began our own existence as a transient family – from 1976 until 1982, we moved three times.

Sadly, for my wife and children, I had misplaced my values and skewed the very idea of church and home. I sued for divorce in 1982 and was removed from the church’s ordained ministry. I had found what I was looking for in 1965, but I hadn’t the strength of character to live the rest of the story.

Ironically, and as a matter of necessity at the time, I wound up in my hometown, and for the first time since I was six years old, I began living there. I was broke and broken, and I might have been actually homeless, except for being able to crash-land with my parents at age 35. It took years to clear the wreckage from the runway.

Spiritually, though, I was homeless; no longer at home in the church, far from my children and their faithful mother and adrift financially. I began working for a newspaper in 1983, but I certainly found no home there. I did, however, meet and marry a remarkable woman, and we’ve been together for almost half of my 70 years. We bought a house in 1987, and we lived there nine years, longer than I had ever lived anywhere. “Home” had been redefined: It was a place and a person — Corpus Christi, and my wife, Mary.

Mary’s father died in April 1995. Moved by his funeral and burial, we decided to return to church. It felt like home again, at least for me. In October 1995, I underwent what I can only describe as a spiritual revival. I began seeking paths of lay ministry that would put my seminary education to use. Mary, meanwhile, completed a master’s degree and planned to earn a doctorate at Texas A&M . We sold the house, and I moved into an apartment behind my parents’ home while Mary moved to College Station.

Home? It was where the heart resided, and when it’s there, I’ve learned, location is less of an issue. I missed Mary terribly for 2 1/2 years, but I was more at peace – at home, perhaps – than I had been since 1982. I felt grounded in a way that I had not felt since leaving seminary in 1976.

I moved to College Station in 1999 to teach journalism and advise the student newspaper. Mary completed her doctorate and worked for the A&M System until 2006, when she was appointed chief of staff in the president’s office at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. I, too, worked at the university until I retired in 2015.

And, now, we are at home – in heart and habitation.

The house we bought 11 years ago has been remodeled to a fare-thee-well, and it’s my hope that we’re living in the last house we’ll ever own. Mary may retire soon. It’s going take some getting used to, but at least there’s no more wreckage on the landing strip.

I’ve been somewhat disaffected from the church since 2009, but it’s not as though it doesn’t feel like home when I’m there. My friends tell me I need to work on the heart part, and I think that’s good advice. I want to believe I’ve got at least a little time left to work on it.

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