The Gift of “Welcome Home”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 1:28 pm

The Gift of “Welcome Home”

“Welcome” is one of the best words we can say to each other. If a person is feeling lost — as so many are — what could be better than to hear someone or something say, “Welcome home!”

I spent much of last fall and the first part of this winter feeling a bit lost — lost in the whirlwind of my work, lost on the terrain called aging, lost in the sadness and madness of the world.

I came nowhere near the pits of despair, but I know that feeling lost tamps me down. When I can’t find my way, I can’t say “Welcome home!” to others.

So I spent last week in solitude and silence, hoping to be found. In the midst of Wisconsin’s winter woods, I rented a cabin with a wood-burning stove that was my best friend all week. Most days the temps were zero or below, and the windchill was flat-out scary!

I wrote this poem a few years ago after a similar week-long retreat. Last week, the experience it describes came to me again, and I’m grateful. I know I’ll get lost again, but I’m glad to know at least one way home.

Whether the words come from a person, from nature, from within us, or from the great mystery, few if any are better than “Welcome home.”

“Welcome Home”
by Parker J. Palmer

Alone in the alien, snow-blown woods,
moving hard to stay warm in zero weather,
I stop on a rise to catch my breath as the
setting sun—streaming through bare-boned
trees—falls upon my face, fierce and full of life.

Breathing easier now, in and out with the earth,
I suddenly feel accepted—feel myself stand
easy, strong, deep-rooted as the trees,
while time and all these troubles disappear.

And when (who knows how long?) I trudge
on down the trail and find my ancient burdens
returning, I stop once more to say No to them—
not here, not now, not ever again—reclaiming
the welcome home the woods have given me.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Gabby

    I too have been feeling caught for too long in the whirlwind of work and massive care- enough that it takes focused and explicit effort to find anchor.

    A change of scene or situation of respite can be a blessing in such situations.

    I appreciate your drawing attention to the timely value of offering Welcome . When one is well connected to a community, it can be particularly hard to understand that for many people society marginalizes finding places of belonging and welcome is often not a choice of yes or no (not a value they do not acknowledge) but the steepest of climbs to undertake without scaffolding and Welcome.

    It is a good time for us all to think about how to offer a regular practice of Welcome, and particularly to those who might otherwise not find a place of welcome or respite from their difficult lives.