You Can't Go Home Again
Do you remember how it felt as a child when you got the swing at the playground going really, really high?
You wondered if you might fall. Everything was upside down. And yet you couldn't stop tucking your legs underneath you and reaching even higher.
Do you remember what it was like to sit in the grass and pull dandelions, then take a deep breath and blow on them? How the feather-like wisps separated and floated off into the air? It seemed a bit magical.
Do you recall climbing a tree? How you'd manage to get to one limb, holding on for dear life as you got your balance. Then look up and scrutinize just how far that next one was.
Could you reach up and grasp it and heft yourself up another few feet? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea, you'd think.
But then you'd never know unless you tried.
I never fell that I can remember. It was an amazing feeling to be high up in a tree and look down at a somewhat miniaturized world, though in reality it really wasn't all that far at all.
When you're young, everything is higher, brighter, farther. And should you go back home as an adult, you see that the town wasn't so very big. The houses were just ordinary in size, and the trees did not begin to touch the sky.
Through a child's eyes, the truth was the whole truth or it was a lie. There was no in between. Gray did not exist. Just black and white.
They say you can't go back home again. Where does that phrase come from?
You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940, from the contents of his unpublished manuscript The October Fair.
The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his hometown. The book is a success, but the residents of the town are resentful.
Wolfe took the title from a conversation with the writer Ella Winter, who remarked to Wolfe: "Don't you know you can't go home again?" Wolfe asked her for permission to use the phrase as the title of his book.
The phrase has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your town of origin, you cannot return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life.
You cannot feel again how you felt on that swing or up in that tree or sitting in a mound of dandelions. You cannot replicate that feeling because you left that child behind.
And the world is not merely black and white. Gray has entered into your vision. And once that happens, there are question marks about most everything.
To be a child means that you see things just as they are. It means that you define everything by how it looked through your eyes at that very moment. And it is stuck in your brain, in just that form, forevermore.
To me, the idea that you can't go home again means that you will never feel the innocence you once did. It left when you deigned, when somewhat older, to reach down on a whim and pull a dandelion.
Just for the heck of it you blew the remnants into the air. And somehow the magic was gone. A thing of the past.
I can't recall reaching down to pick a dandelion in my immediate memory. But I will admit, I still sometimes wish upon a star. And keep it to myself.