I have never felt completely at home wherever I have lived. I began thinking about this recently because I turn sixty-four this year and I have been reflecting some on death. With my reflections on death have come thoughts of where I might be buried.
I am convinced that there’s at least one more move in my life, so I am hopeful that I will end my life somewhere other the city where I have lived for most of the past twenty-five years, a place I did not choose. Even if I were to die here, I refuse to be buried here.
Despite beautiful skies, the trees, and the birds I spend many hours watching, no place has been less home for me. I ended up here through circumstances and burial here would mean that this is the place where I died and out of convenience my body was left to await resurrection.
I live in a good house, and I do not wander the streets like those who are truly homeless in this life, but recently I have been struck by a profound sense of homelessness. While this is not as difficult to bear or endure as a life of physical homelessness, this sense of spiritual homelessness still can be overwhelming.
I admit that my feeling homeless may be the result of my having lived in twelve different states and sixteen cities and towns over the course of my life and, perhaps, a personal failure to put down roots.
I am an American and so in a broader sense America is my home. I am Catholic and so in a broader sense the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a home for me.
What I am speaking about is that particular place where one settles and lives, a village, town, city, that place where your family has its roots and as a sapling from the larger tree where put down your own roots and stay put.
For a place to be home, your soul must be at rest and at peace in that place. Often this happens only after many years of struggle that ends in accepting the connections you have to that place. This is where I was born. This is where I grew up. This is where my family made its home. These are my people. This is where I will be buried. This is where I belong.
Although I have felt moments of profound rest and peace in certain places, mostly mountainous places far from cities and where you can walk for hours without seeing another person, my soul has never been fully at rest and peace in a geographic place.
My mother, unlike me, always knew her home. She carried it in her heart wherever we lived before we moved to the small town across the river from the city where she was born. She always knew where she was from and where she would return. She is now buried among her ancestors, the Hearns and Sullivans, in the city of her birth after dying in the house she lived fifty years.
I am more like my father. He died in California and is buried in a veteran’s cemetery in my mother’s home state, Massachusetts. They divorced when I was in my twenties and she opposed his burial in the place of her family. That was her home. Not his.
I left my mother’s home in my twenties. I tried to make it my home and in many ways it is home for me. But I do not see it as the place of my body’s final resting.
I have thought of the possibility of being buried near my grandparents in Buffalo, New York. I was baptized in the city at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church. My baptism there makes Buffalo a kind of spiritual home for me.
I love my grandmother and think often of her. A holy woman, she died praying the Rosary, and I am convinced that her prayers helped me return to faith. When I visited her grave and that of my grandfather not long ago, I felt great peace.
My grandparents are buried in separate cemeteries. My grandmother is buried in the Polish Catholic cemetery, and my Ukrainian grandfather in a city cemetery. They lived apart in life, and now their bodies live apart in death.
I am especially drawn to burial near my Ukrainian grandfather, because I did not know him and unlike my grandmother, who is settled among other Polish Catholics, he seems alone where he is buried. I have thought too of the possibility of my being buried in a Ukrainian Catholic cemetery somewhere in the United States. I have not given up on these possibilities.
Part of what matters for me, I suppose, is a sense of belonging in death, despite a sense of belonging to a place in life having eluded me so far. The beautiful beginning of William Kennedy’s novel Ironweed expresses the desire to hold on to belonging that many have in death:
Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.
Perhaps it’s the clannish Irish in me that makes me long for such a neighborhood in death.
Of course, finding a home for my body after my death should not matter. Nor should I be concerned about finding a home in this life. The Lord was always coming and going, Romano Guardini tells us in his beautiful meditation Jesus Christus.
The Lord was always moving, Guardini says; the Lord was homeless. Guardini says that Our Lord speaks of his homelessness in Luke 9:58: Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air their resting-places; the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
Our Lord, Guardini says, had only temporary places to lay His head in his short life. He stayed wherever anyone would have Him. The Lord teaches us, therefore, that all in this life is temporary.
This is the condition of life that I am seeking to embrace as a sojourning Christian on this earth, one expressed beautifully by David in Psalm 38 (Septuagint numbering):
Be not silent, for I am a sojourner with Thee, and a stranger, as were all of my fathers.
For the Christian no place here will ever be home, in life or in death.