If You Lived Here, You´d Be Home By Now

I had intended to tell a story that was autobiographical, but instead I think I’ll tell one that’s about me.

The autobiographical story that I won’t tell had to do with a time when I used to work at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and commuted with about 1.5 million others back and forth from Arlington every day. On the way home, just after we would leave the downtown area, and pull out onto Memorial Drive along the Charles River, traffic would invariably grind to a halt and I would stop right in front of a set of “toney” condominiums that had a big sign out front extolling its virtues to the commuters. In addition to reasonable prices and views of the Charles, it also said, a bit smugly, “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now.”

I hated that sign. I hated it most because it was true. On my way home, I would pass dozens of stop lights, hundreds of buses and thousands of cars, but if I had only lived closer to the “center” I would have found my home already.

And it was really true of me personally. I spent years and years of my life searching for some kind of enriching, exciting experience that would bring me happiness or fulfillment or peace, or who knows what, but the truth always was that if I could just learn to live closer to the “center,” where Christ has always resided, waiting for me, then I’d have been “home by now.”

A couple of years ago someone told me that vandals had slipped onto the condo’s grounds late at night and thrown black and white paint all over the sign. It was defaced so badly that the owners were considering taking it down. The police surmised that teenagers had done it, but I never believed that. I always figured that it was a bunch of middle aged white guys in suits who snuck in there in the dead of night and threw copy machine toner and “white out” all over it.

Do you remember the ancient Medieval legend of the Holy Grail, the one about the guy who spent his entire life searching for the magical Grail used at the Last supper? I don’t want to write in footnotes, but Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of myths, has said that the story of the quest for the Grail is the quintessential myth of western civilization. On the other hand, Robert Johnson, a Jungian psychoanalyst, has said that more than that, it is the quintessential male myth. I’m no expert, but I’m inclined to go with Johnson on that one.

According to the story, the Grail is the very cup that Christ drank from, and it supposedly contained drops of blood taken from his side when he died. If someone found it, he (and it has to be a “he” if this is to be a male myth) would receive total self-discovery and spiritual self-awareness. The legend is that a young boy named Parsifal, who lived on the grounds of the castle where it was kept, stumbled across the Grail one night and almost touched it. He came within inches of it. But the closer he got to touching the mysterious source of self-discovery, the more frightened he became. So he turned and ran away, out of the castle, out into the woods, and didn’t look back until he was totally lost.

He was remorseful that he had turned away in fear and so he spent the rest of his life trying to find his way back home again to the hidden castle one more time to touch the grail and finally get it right. He traveled for years in search of the Grail. He became a knight and was famous throughout the land, wearing dashing (and very thick) armor, and vanquishing every foe of truth and beauty. He carried a mighty shield and spear, and beat every enemy in battle. He was even honored by King Arthur himself for his bravery. But in the end, he still could not find his way back home and to the Grail.

Finally, when he grew very old, tired, defeated, and lost, he stumbled into a monastery on Good Friday. He is weak and discouraged and decides that his life will never be complete because he had never found the Holy Grail, the source of all meaning. He asked them if he could just take Communion with the simple monks and live with them in peace. When he told the monks his story, a wise man of the monastery stepped forward and said simply, “The grail? Oh, it’s just down the road about two kilometers, turn left, and across the bridge. It’s not far.”

Parsifal was shocked. “Do you mean,” he said, “that I could have gone just a little bit further and finally found it?”

“I don’t know,” says the monk. “You have to know where to look. We’ve seen you pass by our gates about thirty times over the past few years. We wondered what you were up to. It seems you’ve been riding around in circles pretty much all your life.”

He collapsed in joy and heartache. He’d been circling the castle that kept the Grail all this time, but didn’t know it. He’d never been more than fifteen miles from the grail ever since he began his search. It seems he had done everything to find self-realization except look close to home.

I’m not sure, but I think the point of the story was that if he had only known where he really lived, he’d have been home by now.