Friday, June 22, 2012
God knows, I couldn't have been more wrong.
I think my jaw fell to my face when I answered the door. He stood there, all 5'11" and 280 beefy pounds of him, dressed in a wrinkled buttoned shirt, tan shorts and sneakers (no laces), his long, shaggy, thinning grey-white hair combed back but still looking like he had just stepped off a fishing boat. His hands were huge and adored with a few band aids.
He was Very White - what my children would describe as "carved out of creme cheese" - with piercing blue eyes, just a bit clouded over from years of "livin' the vida loca".
Clearly, this man had some stories to tell. I knew we were going to become fast friends.
He was from the same company that managed our exterior renovations so he knew to immediately compliment me on the appearance of the exterior of the house.
Charming. Smart. So far, so good.
He took a look around the house and said, "So, we're going with cool colors, right? Are you looking for neutral or something that makes a statement?"
Wait a minute..... window treatments that "make a statement"?....could my gay-dar be broken? Nah, he's just learned the language, is all.
"I think I'm going to need to look at some of your samples first," I said. "Hold them up to the window frame. Check them out in the light."
"Sure," said Bruce, "first let me measure your windows so I get a sense of proportion."
I was really starting to like this guy.
We moved from room to room, Bruce taking down the measurements as we made "small talk". At some point, I offered to make a pot of coffee, which he accepted.
He asked me how long I had lived here. I told him we had just really moved in but had owned the house for 10 years.
"Where from?" he wanted to know.
"Jersey, by way of Baltimore and Boston," I said in the shorthand way I've learned to speak since arriving in Lower, Slower Delaware, where most everyone comes here from someplace else.
"I came here from Philly," he said. "I was 23 years old, just graduated from college. Came here for the weekend with some of my roommates. I took one look around and said, 'I'm home'. I went back once to pick up my stuff and I've never left."
"Really?" I said. "Just like that?"
"Just like that," he smiled. "When you're home, you know it. I knew it then and I know it now. I love this place," he said, his arms wide open, taking in everything he could.
We talked a bit about the downside: no public transportation, far from many cultural opportunities like museums and the symphony and the theater, the summer traffic.....
He had an upside to everything: no pollution, lower cost of living, moderate climate, 70 minutes from Wilmington where you can either visit museums or symphony or theater there or hop the Amtrak to Philly or DC or NYC and, as he said, 'overdoes on culture' in just a few hours.
Intrigued, I pressed him a bit further on this. "How did you know? What was it that 'told' you that this is where you belonged? That you were 'home'?"
He stopped for a minute and carefully considered my question. "You know," he said, "I've never been exactly sure. My parents always told me not to start a family and have children until I was done playing with my own toys. I suppose I looked around at this place and saw that this was where I could play and have fun. Boating. Fishing. Crabbing. Sailing. All kinds of water sports. At least, that's what made me fall in love at first sight."
"You talk about this place the way some men talk about their wives," I chuckled.
His face brightened. "You know," he said, "that's pretty much on the money. Huh!" he said as he slicked back his hair, making sure it was in place.
"What, 'huh'?" I asked, "What insight did you just have? I mean....if I can ask. I don't mean to intrude."
"Nah," he said, "I was just thinking that I got married once. She was a nice girl. A beautiful woman. Met her while she was here on vacation. But, she wanted to move back to Nebraska. Start a family. I said, 'Me? In Nebraska? You're kidding me, right?' She was not kidding. I told her what my parents had said about not having children until I was done playing with my own toys. 'I'm not done,' I said. 'Well,' she said, I am', and she left two weeks later. Haven't seen or heard from her since, except to sign the divorce papers."
"Hmmm....," I said, after a few moment's pause, "Any regrets?"
"Well, yeah....duh!," he said, "But suddenly, I understand. This place is like my lover. It's the place I fell in love with. I think she knew that and wanted me to leave my lover. I wanted both - a wife and a lover. She said no. I understand that now. I didn't before. I won't ever make that mistake again."
"You never re-married?"
"Suppose," I said, carefully, "Just suppose you find a woman you can love who also loves this place....would that work? Would you marry again?"
He smiled and stirred the coffee I had set before him, "I've been with the same woman now for about 10 years.....yeah, it's been about 10 years, I think. Shelly. She's great. She doesn't want to get married again, either. We're happy this way. She does her thing, I do mine. I pretty much freelance - window treatments, a little interior design. I repair and maintain and build boats - got two of my own - but I learned enough stuff to take care of other people's boats and make a decent living. I have a house of my own on five acres of land - can't see my house from the street - and about eight cars. I race a few of them. It's a good life," he said, adding, "I guess I'm not done playing with toys."
"This place is a lot like my parents," he continued. "It allows me to be me. No apologies. I'm still learning and growing. See? It's 'home'."
He looked at me with his cloudy, piercing blue eyes, "But you.....you haven't yet settled in yet, have you? I mean, it looks like you have. This place is very homey. Very comfortable. But, it's not yet 'home', is it?"
"I'm getting there," I said quietly. "It's a big transition. Huge. This ain't the Northeast Corridor."
"Thank God for small favors," he laughed.
"All I can say is that it's a gift, you know? A blessing. To know that, when you're here, you're home. When I get to heaven, I hope it looks just like this."
I smiled. "I don't know what I expect heaven to look like. I guess I hope it's a montage of places - a little bit of NYC, a little bit of LA, a little bit of Kansas, a little bit of Boston, a few dashes of Portugal and the Mediterranean, a piece of Africa and Asia, a big chuck of Hawai'i, and lots and lots and lots of ocean."
"Well, look how lucky you are!" he exclaimed. "You have so many places to call 'home'. I suspect you'll be more ready for heaven than I will."
We laughed again and then suddenly, he looked at his watch and we realized that we had to get down to the business of picking out window treatments. I listened to his advice, wrote down some style numbers to check later with Ms. Conroy and get some input from some friends.
We said our goodbyes and he said, "I'm looking forward to coming back to install your window treatments. Maybe I can bring Shelly? I think you'd like her. Maybe I can convince her to bring some of her wild blueberry muffins (she owns her own catering business) and you can sit and have coffee with her while I'm working."
"That would be wonderful," I smiled, shook his hand and he left.
It's amazing to me how wrong we can be about our expectations of others, based on what we think we know of them by their names and occupations.
It's astounding to me how we think we can have 'small talk' and not realize that underneath the questions of how we 'decorate' our home or 'treat' our windows, are interesting conversations about personal politics and philosophy and even deeper theological questions about 'home' and 'heaven'.
I suspect Jesus loves it when we worship in church with grand music and finely crafted language and beautiful vestments. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that He loves to pop into casual conversations about our relationships and our loves, sharing a bit of the stories of our lives.
And, I'm guessing, it delights God to no end to surprise us with the knowledge that God is in the midst of wherever we are, and is at home with us wherever we hang our hats - or our window treatments - whether or not we call it 'home'.
I suspect God doesn't really concern Godself with that very much. This whole 'round earth - this whole cosmos - this whole universe - belongs to God and is God's 'home'. We are just invited to share it for a time. Care for it. Play in it. Enjoy it. Enjoy each other.
I think I'm finally understanding and coming to peace with an understanding of 'home'.
It really is where your heart is - wherever that may be. You just have to be present to your own heart and then, suddenly, you find yourself at home.
Ah, the things you learn when you slow down a bit in Lower, Slower, Delaware. My new home.