The smell of homemade apple coffee cake wafting from the kitchen, mornings waking up without an alarm, ample time to read novels while curled up by my mom’s bookshelves, an affectionate dog whose curious eyes follow me from room-to-room; these are some sure-fire signs that I am home. Even as I traverse the country and the globe, making new homes for myself far from Rhode Island, there is a peace that washes over me upon every return to this place, my first home.
Maybe it’s the soothing sounds of the river waves lapping the rocky shore below or the view of my Grandma’s hydrangea bushes four yards down, but with each breath of salty air, my fast-paced thoughts ease, and my ever-present to-do list fades. Just turning onto the tucked away street that leads to the Hummocks is a real slowing down. In the midst of my twenties, as I navigate weighty decisions about relationships and careers, change seems to run rampant in my own life. Yet this place is timeless and eternal...teeming with shared memories, deep roots and a rhythmic, relational way of being. I enjoy my post-run breakfast out on the porch. I read the newspaper each day and water the tomatoes in the garden. Neighbors stop by and linger, asking how life is in South Bend or Spain or Mississippi or South Bend, again. And, every evening, in the rain or snow or blustery winds, our family goes on a walk. Yes, I am home.
For one hour every night after dinner, the Carroll family walks. Most days, it is my mom and dad, accompanied by our family dog, who lead the charge. What started as a way to enjoy some fresh air after busy days has become a nightly ritual in my parents’ marriage and in their home, my home. Their two-person rank, consistent and disciplined, always welcomes more walkers. During school vacations and the summer months, a larger brood joins: cousins, friends from out-of-town visiting, significant others turned fiancés turned new brother and sister-in-law, and, soon, baby Carroll in his stroller.
Down the street. Over the bridge. Past the church. Along the riverfront. Up the big, big hill and back home.
My dad grabs the dog’s leash, my mom runs upstairs for socks, my sister turns off the TV, and we pause washing the dinner dishes. Our motley crew, often borrowing one another’s jackets and shoes, embarks down the street for our three mile family loop. We leave our phones behind and just walk, our brisk pace slowed only by run-ins with neighbors who double as relatives.
Down the street. Past the stone wall that Grandpa forbade us to sit on and by the yard that hosted the Family Olympics for over twenty years. Past the stoop where my dad waited for my mom to get back from work when they were high school sweethearts. Past the cottage that my Grandpa and his brothers first called home almost 80 years ago.
Over the bridge. The bridge that we crossed each day on our way to high school. That we pass under to go fishing or to make a late-night ice cream trip on the boat. Over the river that we swim across as a familial rite of passage. The bridge that so often takes my breath away when it comes into view after days or weeks or months away from the ocean.
Past the church. The little, seaside St. Christopher’s where my sister was married this summer. The white steeple, poking out in the trees, that stares directly at our house across the river.
Along the riverfront. Where God’s grandeur is on full display as the trees clear and give way to a sky ablaze with pinks and oranges, signaling the end of a day well-lived. We feel small, and God’s majesty feels so great, along this stretch of road. How lucky we are to be in, from and shaped by this place.
Past the rows of beginner sailboats and the tent that housed the local yacht club where we spent so many summer days. Past the sea-worn cottages teetering on the edge of the shore.
Up the big, big hill. My dad pumps his arms and conversation lags as we catch our breaths. The legs cry in relief as we make the final turn back home.
A protected hour to recount the stresses and wonders of the day, to ask an opinion, to make amends, to laugh, to call to mind those in need of prayer. As we walk, we remember where we have come from, who is with us and how much this place has shaped us, remembering that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). The walk reminds us that we are rooted and, at the same time, roots us more deeply in this place and in one other. Even when I begrudge leaving the warmth of the fireplace in the middle of December, when the dark cold bites through our parkas and hats, there is something about this ritual that pulls me in and inevitably leaves me professing, “Yes, I am home.”
Although far from billboard-worthy or flashy, these evening walks have become ingrained in the life of my family. A time to gather and remember the blessings that abound in our stubborn, fiercely loyal, family-first, far-from-perfect, domestic Church. Even when I am hundreds of miles away from this little corner of heaven on the river, my family walks, preserving this sacred act. Each walk is a ritual of hope, in that there is longing for those who are absent, coupled with trust that our geographic distance in the present season of life does not diminish our unity as a family.
It is of little surprise to me that this walking ritual has taken hold among my parents and siblings when a focal point of our family is another ritual of gathering and remembering and hoping: the Mass. Far from billboard-worthy or flashy and sometimes approached begrudgingly when I feel angry with the Church and wonder what difference my participation and presence make, the Mass pulls me in. I only have to remember—so many weekends altar serving as a child, that Easter Sunday Mass when I first truly believed in the Resurrection, the real presence of the Holy Spirit as I stood by siblings and friends vowing to love their spouses as Christ loves the Church, my former high school students reaching across the aisle to join their hands and voices in prayer—to know that this is where I belong, where peace cannot help but wash over me. An occasion of God’s grace outpoured that reminds me of my rootedness and roots me more deeply in the Body of Christ, until I am left professing, “Yes, I am truly home.”