Traveling Home (With a Soundtrack)

coming home

Images from my Instagram feed, altered in PicMonkey.

I. How Deep Is That River

God saw that man was a little too rough
so He gave him a heart
and filled it up with love.

Sing it – How deep is that river?
How deep is that river? Yes,
I don’t need to know if it has a name.
I don’t need to know how to cross it yet
before I get my spirit wet.
I just want to know how deep – alright.

— Mason Jennings, “How Deep Is That River”, In the Ever

It’s Sunday right now, and I’m traveling home from a very long, very intense conference for work. I was traveling alone in Atlanta, my first visit to that city. Except for one very moving visit to the Martin Luther King Center and an evening visiting local hipster establishments, I could have been in any major city. My days and nights were a blur of being around educators at our best (focusing on the intellectual development of students) and our worst (endlessly dissecting minutiae).

On the plane home, I was feeling especially homesick. Watching the queue of planes out of my seat mate’s square window, I counted the minutes until I would get home. There were still too many. As soon as the captain extinguished the seat belt light, I turned on my iPod and started listening to Mason Jennings. Surely, he would help me feel like I was home.

II. Lemon Grove Avenue

If I have my way,
I’m never going to leave
Lemon Grove Avenue,
where the summer breeze
blows through the windows
in the afternoon.

— Mason Jennings, “Lemon Grove Avenue”, Use Your Voice

His music is a touchstone to me, because I discovered his music on an independent radio station when I was about 7 months pregnant with Nora. The station played his song, “Ballad of Paul and Sheila”, and I almost had to pull over, because it so quickly touched a long buried grief for the Wellstones.

I listened to his music all throughout my maternity leave. Every time I hear “Lemon Grove Avenue”, I have a distinct memory of the fall light streaming into our living room through the red and white curtains. I can feel the slight weight of Nora’s not-even seven pound body nuzzled in a wrap against my chest.

III. Empire Builder

I’m always
thinking of you
staring off
down the railroad line
one sweet day
I will see you
but I’ll swing the hammer until
the Empire Builder brings me home.

— Mason Jennings, “Empire Builder”, Use Your Voice

It’s Sunday now and every song I listen to is singing for me, singing my family’s distance. I don’t understand how I can crave solitude at home and then feel so distinctly lonely when I’m far away. On the first night, I couldn’t sleep, even after being awake for twenty hours (mostly) straight. I had to imagine that both Aaron and Nora were lying next to me, breathing quietly, just so I could fall asleep.

During the day, I stretched my introverted self and talked to new people at every meal and every workshop. I introduced myself over and over, covered the same talking points. On breaks, I was glued to my phone. Aaron and I talked daily. Sometimes, I talked to Nora, but I could barely understand her over the speaker phone static. Instead, I watched the videos my husband sent me, grateful for how happy they both looked.

IV. Something About Your Love

Ain’t no modern love
going to set me free
like the kind of love
that you give to me
I’m coming home
to be with you.

— Mason Jennings, “Something About Your Love”, In the Ever

I’m less than an hour away from home and all I can think about is them, even in my deep exhaustion. I’m still counting the minutes, watching the road pass from my bus window. The clouds seem both closer and further away now, hovering gray and white over a green horizon.

It’s Sunday and this is what it’s like right now.

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