“By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” Apostle Paul
Our Chevy Malibu galloped up Interstate 65 through Indiana as the landscape rolled out into flat, open spaces. The hills faded away, leaving us with crops and fields and rows and barns. We were pressing toward the prize of this 14-hour trip – home, to Illinois, to my home. I was told my home was unfixable now – that years of neglect had left professionals with nothing to work with and it was time to find another home; I knew that to be impossible.
I had memorized every square inch of that house; I knew it’s story, it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. I even knew the places that needed repair and reinforcements. This was not the sort of thing you paid much attention to as a child, but in retrospect you can see the signs of dysfunction just below the surface – a crack here, some mold there, left without attention anything is liable to decay and brokenness. But I could fix it, I just needed to walk around the old neighborhood, stand on the porch for a while, then I could see what needed to be fixed, explain what to do next, and save this house – save our house.
The next morning I slipped out of bed, meandered around my children asleep in piles of blankets on the floor, and drove off in my car alone.
I made my way toward Bel- Aire Subdivision – turning left on Kathy drive, right on Ardith, and then another left on to Anita. I decided to park down at the end of the street and double back to the house. I stepped out of the car and in to the cold, damp, heavy morning air. Before me an intrusive strip mall complete with nail salon and a dollar store, disfigured the field that played host to so many afternoon ball games. I walked the sidewalks, now broken by extreme temperatures, bleeding out weeds and dandelions. Houses looked small and lifeless; fences bowed; what once was the neighborhood you wanted to live in now became the neighborhood you drove through, to get to the neighborhood you wanted to live in.
Lost in the memories of a former life, picturing friends, remembering adventures, recalling neighbors long since departed, I stumbled upon 136 Anita Drive. I stopped frozen to the pavement, afraid to move any closer. This used to be the home I knew, but what stood before me was only a house – sagging and strained under the pressures of life. The grass and weeds conspired to take it over. The shutters hung loose and the roof had long since peeled its protective skin. The thoughts and questions in my head mixed with the cry of my heart and spilled out of my mouth. “With a little work this could’ve been saved” I informed God. “Why did no one fight for this house – it was worth fighting for!” Tears patiently repelled down the grooves of my face and on to my t-shirt. I knelt down to feel the grass one last time. I climbed the steps to the front porch and sat for a moment, fearing I was the last one to say goodbye, to walk away and to move on.
The cool wind picked up again, nudging me from my grief, and reminding me that my children would be awake soon. So I stepped down from the porch, followed the path of the sidewalk onto the driveway, where another sidewalk was waiting to show me the way back to my car, the way to move forward.
Arriving at the room, I kissed my children on the forehead and pulled the blankets back up over their tiny bodies. I slipped back under the covers, slid over to my wife’s side, wrapped my cold arm around her warm body, and held her close. She stirred briefly; I kissed her gently on the temple and whispered, “it’s worth fighting for” then slowly drifted off to sleep.