With Labor Day and summer’s end just around the corner, the family and I decided to take a little trip. (Well, three-quarters of us did; the eldest child was off at college orientation, a story for another day.)

I wanted, truth be told, to run away to Prague and write poetry in the coffeehouses late at night; or to sit under a sun-bleached awning outside a villa in Spain, reading deep books and eating olives fresh from the tree. But, you know, what with one thing and another, we simply tripped across the border into Canada for a few days. It requires a passport, so it counts.

The secret, I believe, to any good road trip is a quality audio book. For this particular voyage, we selected “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, read by The Boss himself. Solid choice.

Springsteen is a fascinating human being. As I imagine just about everyone knows, he is a New Jersey boy. Born and raised in Freehold, he hadn’t ever even been out of the state until he was, legally at least, an adult.  He grew up in a tight cluster of family homes under the shadow of the church that was central to their lives. His world was, for all of his early years, only a few blocks wide.

This sense of identity with Jersey is pervasive in his work. His first album was “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.” His most famous works are songs that tell the stories of everyday working people of those neighborhoods. He is Jersey.

It was arresting, therefore, to hear him say “finally, I was home” as he walked in the door of a home he’d never seen, in a town he’d never been to, in a state clear across the country from New Jersey. The home in question was the one in which his parents and baby sister had settled after pulling up stakes and moving west nearly a year before he landed, temporarily, on their couch.

I’m going to say again – he had never been there before. Ever. The trip that took him to California was also his first time ever leaving Jersey. And yet he was home. Why? Because his parents and his sister were there.

In the book, this comment is made casually. He doesn’t dwell on it. It simply is. He was home. But as the story tripped lightly on from that moment to the gig that didn’t quite happen and the contract that failed to click, my mind kept circling around that one statement. “Home.” Despite all the obvious meanings of place, and all the painful parts of the relationship with his father, home was simply where his family was.

I sat in the car, staring at the international boundary marker as we waited our turn to cross back, keenly aware that on this trip, I had my home with me the entire time – even the piece of it off discovering his new grown-up self. I am grateful. And lucky.

The town that we call “home” is busy welcoming several asylum-seeking families. Brave souls who, like most of our ancestors (unless you are native), left the land they knew in search of a better life. I admire them, and hope that their families settle on a solid, safe foundation here.

Welcome home.


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