Leading the Heart Home


“You wanna give up ’cause it’s dark
We’re really not that far apart
So let your heart, sweet heart
Be your compass when you’re lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it’s all said and done
You can walk instead of run
‘Cause no matter what you’ll never be alone (never be alone) oh oh oh
Never be alone oh oh oh”
-lyrics to “Compass” by Lady Antebellum

Home may be the place where you hang your hat, or kick off your shoes, or greet the day. For some, home is the house where you live. For others, home is where family is. Home can be an activity that sets you right. Home may be the times when you breathe and feel fully yourself. Home may be the moment of calm in prayer. Home is many things, many places, many ideas, but we all know when we feel at home.

I have many people, places, ideas, and activities that can bring me home. One that rises most fully into the moon of home is the small hamlet of Springer, New Mexico. I was not born here. I do not have extensive branches of the family tree here. I lived here for only six years in a life of more than thirty, but this place is home. I think I could find it walking blind-folded from Alaska. There is something about this place and about my time here. Perhaps, because my formative years (junior high and high school) were spent here, I call it home, but it is much more than that. Despite the fact that I consider it home, I have not lived here in more than twenty years. My mother moved to Raton (35 miles north) a few years after I graduated from high school, so even trips to visit her do not include spending the night in my hometown.

The last time I spent the night here was two and a half years ago when a dear friend died and I came home to meet several friends to say goodbye. We sat in the church pews, huddled together in a pack. Then we spent the weekend laughing and crying and remembering. We built up the memories into a collective fortress of grief.

A couple of weeks ago, Springer and good friends were calling me home. I had planned to make the five-hour drive from northern Colorado to northern New Mexico several times over the last several months. Somehow work, finances, time, weather, and a myriad of other reasons (excuses?) made the trip elusive. Until that weekend. Perhaps the delay helped to set me into appreciation, because I savored it with every fiber of my being. I made plans to meet my friend J., who after unfortunate circumstances has found himself back at home in Springer. In a small town, in a region with a shrinking population and struggling economy, this can be difficult in the best of times. J., if nothing else, has a big heart, but I could tell he has been feeling discouraged from some of his Facebook posts. Knowing that status updates are no way to truly stay in touch, I sent him an e-mail and we arranged to meet for breakfast. I called him early on Saturday morning from my mom’s house in Raton, and then wound my way down the highway and felt my heart beating faster as I entered the town limits. I was home, albeit with Colorado tabs on my car. I drove up the old familiar hill (where we used to run hill repeats for track practice) and turned into the driveway of J.’s house. I had a care package for him. A couple of weeks before my visit, I asked J. what he would want in a care package. He chimed back with an instant message that he had never received one. I told him to think hard about what he would like to receive. A couple of days later, he responded with a short list of junk foods. I obliged his cravings, picking up things at the grocery store on my way out of town.

J. showed me his house and then we drove down the hill to eat breakfast at Elida’s, my favorite haunt. It was busy for a spring Saturday morning. We sat and talked and ate scrumptious breakfast sprinkled with the Northern New Mexican flavor that I miss and only seem to recreate in memories. There’s something to breaking bread with an old friend, it helps to break the ice and bring on the old familiarity that gets lost over the years. I saw another old friend, N. who makes breakfast like nobody’s business and runs the restaurant. He was working and I was running around, so our visit was too short. I ran into the lovely old gentleman who remembered me from high school track. I got a hug, with a quick catch-up, and I marveled at the quiet generosity of a man who has volunteered his time to high school athletics (on the chain gang for the football team and as one of the starters and track officiates) in our quiet small town. Calories consumed, J. and I took a drive, reminding me of high school and the “cruise” down the main part of town. We drove on familiar streets, talking with small punctuations of silence along the way, filling in some of the gaps of twenty years. As we gathered our stories, we spun the car north, past old homes and old paths, and headed out-of-town. I could make my measurements with the perspective of memories. Our stomachs full, our stories traded, J. and I made our goodbyes at his front gate. He went in for Saturday chores and to check in on his parents, while I drove back down the hill for lunch and a mini-class reunion. We promised to see each other again soon and I look forward to the visit.

I made a couple more loops through town, stopping at the cemetery to see the graves of friends and friends’ loved ones, before meeting M. and D. and their families at the Dairy Delite. The Dairy Delite is a local institution and the ladies that run the restaurant are as well-loved as their tacos and ice cream. They close down in late fall and it is a rite of spring when they open up again in March. I happened to visit during the first weekend of spring opening and they were doing a busy and brisk business. Earlier, when I had made plans to come and see D. and her boys for that weekend, she saw that our classmate and friend M. was in town with her family to visit her parents for spring break. D. coordinated a lunchtime reunion. I pulled in, just as M. and her sweet family were piling out of their van. I spotted her and her magnificent red hair as if it had been days, rather than twenty years, since we had seen each other. We hugged and squealed and went in to find D., ever the mother and planner, already her two and half month old in his car seat was doing his tabletop duty to save our dining space. There was chaos as we arrived in the midst of the first Saturday lunch rush. I hung back, for a bit just watching and marveling at my two beautiful high school friends and their families. While my spiritual and emotional connections to Springer seem strong, I often feel like my ties are invisible or tenuous. That day, though, I made the rounds at the restaurant like a politician, glad-handing and hugging several folks who were also there for the spring opening of “The Dairy,” relieved that some of those ties are still there.

We settled in at a big table and chatted and laughed and ate and tried to catch up on twenty years. We gossiped about ourselves in high school, in college, in our twenties, and thirties. We talked jobs, marriages, motherhood, family, friends, and all the rest. It felt like being in a tribe, one that I was happy to join. Both D. and M. are good mothers, strong in their faith and belief, determined to raise kids with goodness who are equally strong in their faith. I marveled at the art of my friends and their motherhood. We spent three hours, yes three!, holding court at the table. I cuddled D.’s baby and made friends with M.’s four-year old daughter. Just because I do not have kids at home, does not mean that I do not want to love and cuddle with my friends’ kids. I kind of missed my chance to be an aunt. My older sister had kids when I was in high school and college, and I was not mature enough, nor close in distance to help out and be a proper aunt. Most of my college friends who have kids are far away, so I have to wrestle these moments with the younger generation when I can.

The thing about a three-hour reunion is, it only whets the palate for more. It makes you realize that strong bonds can be strengthened and people whom you love will always be people you love. Friendships can be renewed, but they can also be broken and wilting. We have to nurture our hearts, as well as our relationships, and find that they are ever-changing. Miles and obligations can move us apart, but there are ways to challenge the distance. I think, in the mathematics of the bonds of people, the shortest point between two hearts is friendship and love. We grew up together, ate lunch together, played sports together, solved algebra problems together, went to student council meetings together, walked together around the small high school before the first bell rang, cried and giggled over crushes together. The women that we are today were created by those girls that we were then.

After three hours, it was time for M., her sweet and devoted husband, and their charming brood to make the drive back to Texas. We hugged and said goodbye, her children politely nodding and waving, and they were gone in a flurry of van doors slamming and the sprinkle of gravel under the wheels as they turned onto the highway. D. invited me back to her house and we loaded up, me following in my car, to take the 25-mile drive to her home in the neighboring small town of Cimarron.

The clouds and wind and a bit of rain changed the day from a sunny morning to a dark, overcast afternoon, all the better for curling up on the couch with the baby. D.’s husband was sick, so her older boys did a bit of nursing their dad, interspersed with bouts of reading books and playing board games, while we girls took charge of the cozy living room, a hot fire crackling in the fireplace. I got my fix of baby-love, cooing and rocking and holding, and D. and I caught up with the latest details. After years of being out of touch, she and I have had a few marathon sessions of girl talk in the last two and a half years, and now, more than even in our high school years, we are the type of friends who can talk about anything and everything. We talk faith, family, finances, careers, politics. We talk about where we have been, where we are, and where we would like to be in all matters. We may not always agree with each other, but we give each other the space and grace for that. I know that she helps me to understand a different viewpoint, and I hope that I can do that for her as well. Sometimes, despite our different ideas, we end up reaching the same conclusions. I marvel at how a friendship, rocky during parts of junior high and high school until our senior year, is rooted with history, but sprouts in a new light, a much stronger bond. She is a soul sister.

As easy as it is to catch up over a meal or an afternoon visit, those same ties will not strengthen without time and love. I know that if I want to pursue these friendships, I have to give it time and I have to realize that it may come in fits and starts. In the last few years, I have become familiar with loss as dear friends and family members die and some bonds do not renew as easily. When you find the people whom you love and admire, it is important to find the time and opportunity to be with them. Just like muscles atrophy without exercise, friendships can wither and fade away. Our people need us and we need them. I plan on more trips to New Mexico and perhaps a road trip to Texas soon.

Who are the people, what are the places, that become home for you? Find them and nurture them. We need to go home to the people and places that are home in our hearts.


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