It seems to me that in the orbit of our world you are the North Pole, I the South — so much in balance, in agreement — and yet… the whole world lies between.
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
My grandparents built a house in Wyoming, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati in 1950, and they lived there for 51 years until they passed away within a week of each other in April of 2001. In that house they raised three boys and one girl, who gave them over the years eight grandchildren and even one great grand daughter that they were able to meet before they died. In that house they hosted countless holidays and Sunday lunches. Whiffle ball games in the backyard. Christmas Eves around the tree. From the beginning of the Cold War until just before the Towers fell.
After they passed the house was sold. A few weeks later my aunt, my grandparents’ only daughter, drove to the house just to have a look, and it was gone. Torn down by the new owners, who were only after, apparently, the land.
You can’t go home again. It’s a cliche, but one that is so true it’s coded deep into our DNA. Sometimes you physically can’t go home again, and sometimes when you do go home again, it’s not the same. It can never be the same. Whether you are gone a week or a month or a decade or a lifetime. And even though we all understand this, intellectually, we still have the hope that someday we will get to go home, wherever that happens to be, and that it will be the same, or if not the same close but better. That hope exists in all of us. Until it is taken away, and we are left with the cold, stark reality of that which we already, in our hearts, knew.
This doesn’t make it any less hard.
I think about this a lot when players embark on these seemingly endless tours. England are in New Zealand now, where they will be until December. All that time away from home, to the point where when they do finally return, it will be different, in small ways, but different nonetheless, different enough to notice the changes. That’s the life of the international superstar cricketer. That’s the deal you make: you can go home again, but it won’t be the same. And I think about Ben Stokes, who is from New Zealand, and traveling with the England side, what’s home for him? Is New Zealand home? The city of Christchurch where he lived until he was 12? Or is it England now? Where’s home for him? Where’s home for all of us?
And that’s part of it there. We spend so much time away that we start to wonder where home really is. Is it this apartment where I have lived for the past 18 months? Or is it the house where I lived for the previous 13 years? The place where I am no longer allowed? Or is it my mother’s house that she bought with my father 32 years ago this December, only 19 shy of how long my grandparents owned theirs? Or is it the patch of land where that house first stood?
So it is for these cricketers. These heroes that live to entertain us. They give up the one thing that we all take for granted until it’s gone: home.
But, sometimes, you can go home again. At least for a minute. An afternoon maybe, if you’re lucky. Earlier today David Warner played his first match in Australia since the incident in Newlands 18 months ago. After a summer of boos in England, he was given a hero’s welcome in Adelaide by the home crowd, and he rewarded them with his first ever International T20 century. No matter what you think of Australia, or Warner, or any of them, it’s a good story. One to keep in mind as all the other dark news — in cricket and everywhere — swirls around us.
And it’s another thing that cricket — and sport — can teach us. Sometimes, despite everything, you can go home. Sleep in your own bed. Make coffee in your own kitchen. Share old laughs and old hopes. Hit a century in front of a warm crowd on a warm day 1,300 kilometers from the town where you were born there at the bottom of the world. 1,300 kilometers but closer still than you have been in so long, during that long dark hot summer in England over 15,000 kilometers away. Home again. Hitting boundaries. Winning matches. Hearing the cheers that you thought were gone forever.
So. You can go home again. You can, until you can’t. And the latter is where I sit today on this cold, blustery autumn morning, The door has closed, the same one that I walked out of. Up until a couple weeks ago I still had that horrible hope that the door would stay open. That I could walk out into the sun and hit a century and be okay. But instead I am here, I am this. I know this, I understand it, it is breaking my heart and I am letting it. But still. I hope. I hope for my moment in the sun again. On the latest Bon Iver record Justin Vernon sings triumphantly, “some light feels good now, don’t it?” And that’s all I want. Light. Light on my shoulders. On my face. The kind of light that only home can provide.