I’ve never much cared for folks who take lines of poetry out of context to make a point, but that won’t stop me from doing so here. The poem in question is Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man.” It’s a longish poem, and like many of Frost’s works, far deeper and — in some ways — more ominous than his popular reputation would have you believe. The lines I’m appropriating are these:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
I’ve been thinking about these lines a lot today, mostly because of the time we’ve spent with family lately. After all, isn’t it family — wherever they may be — who represent home to us? I can’t speak for you, but apart from an aged aunt in rural southwestern Virginia, none of my family live anywhere near where I grew up, let alone in the same house. And so more than a place, it is this ragtag collection of people — some of whom I know well, some barely at all — that mean home to me.
Christmas is always the time that I’m reminded of these folks because Christmas is the time that I see them. For years, I longed for the sort of Christmases I remember — Christmases with a surfeit of toys and snow and a house full of people moving in and out all day long, stamping the snow off their boots and brushing it from their shoulders, carting armloads of packages and craving good company and good food. That kind of Christmas is captured in a picture of my sister and me standing amid thigh-high snow drifts in front of my grandparents’ house on Hazel Mountain. She’s clutching a giant stuffed dog, and I’m holding a toy helicopter aloft. If I had the picture, I’d post it here, but even then, I don’t think it could ever capture all that my memory of that moment holds.
So long ago. My sister is gone, and I miss her. And the house on Hazel Mountain is tumbling in on itself.
But one thing Christmas always brings to mind is that there’s still home. No matter how much has changed. No matter how much we’ve drifted apart. No matter how different our lives have become, or how much — or how little — we have to say to one another, there’s still home. And when we have to go there, they have to take us in.
Thank God for that.