You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory. – Thomas Wolfe
This week’s Full Moon/Lunar Eclipse is in Sagittarius, the sign of the traveler, the wandering stranger, and appropriately enough I’m writing this from a motel room far from my home. Or rather, far from my present home; the place where I’m staying is, in fact, just a few miles from the hospital where I was born.
I think of this place a lot, but I haven’t visited here since 1988. So it’s one of those places, you know? – it feels familiar, except it doesn’t. It’s gotten to the point where I feel more nostalgic visiting Los Angeles, the place we moved to, than I do here in the place that we left. The feeling of visiting here has been less sentimental than odd – like being transplanted into, say, the setting of your favorite fictional television series. You recognize some landmark or other and you stop and exclaim, “Oh, it’s that place!” But it seems out of context somehow. You remembered it a bit differently, that this was farther from something else or the scale of it was different or … well, you get the idea.
I’m a stranger here, now. Our rental car has license plates from a different state, far enough away to elicit curious stares. I left here before I knew how to drive, and I have to use a GPS to find my way around. I meet cousins, people I spent a lot of time with as a kid, and I have to be introduced to them.
It’s been the same story, more or less, since we left home more than a week ago. We spent nearly a week in New Orleans, a city that seems vaguely familiar, even if you’ve never been there, because you’ve seen it in countless movies and television shows. And yet you get there and it has a slightly different shape than you’d expected. Some things are brighter, and some are much darker. The food, the people, the colors… it’s all as wonderful as you’d hoped, but not at all as you’d imagined it. It’s like walking into your house to find that someone has come in and moved all the furniture around by about three inches; everything’s a little bit off.
I was in New Orleans to attend an astrology conference. (Note: I wrote this in 2012, just after the UAC conference.) It’s a big deal, this conference, and it happens only once every four years. I imagine for a place like Denver or Orlando, previous hosting cities, having hundreds of astrologers descend on you at once might be kind of disconcerting. But New Orleans, being New Orleans, didn’t bat an eyelash. Many of us were strangers to New Orleans, but familiar strangers, the weird meeting the weird.
I met a few of my colleagues there, people I’ve known from my rich little online world, but not as many as I might have. I’m adrift in groups, I’m afraid, and usually hide from them as much as possible. I presented a lecture, and while it was stressful preparing for it the experience itself was the easiest part of the whole conference, one of the few moments when I felt comfortable, like I knew who I was and what I was there for.
Some of us are meant to be outsiders, I think. An eclipse in Sagittarius evokes the Stranger, the wanderer within you, who was fated to leave the people to whom she belonged in order to have strange new experiences far from home. Sagittarius is usually presented as such a happy, positive sign, but being a stranger is not always a great feeling. To make the whole world your home, you might have to let loose of the specific places and situations that give you a sense of belonging.
My Sagittarius eclipse experience has let me be a stranger in the strange land of New Orleans, but also led me to the more disorienting experience of being a stranger in situations that should feel familiar. Oh, there have been moments of connection all along the way. It’s just that for most of the trip, I’ve felt the way I feel here in my home town: like a stranger, like I should feel a sense of belonging that in all honesty I don’t feel.
Today, I took a drive with my sister, my brother, and our spouses down into the deep heart of the country farmland where we lived as children. It’s the first time we were all together there in probably forty years. Lots of things have changed. Houses we’d known had burned or been torn down. Roads were diverted, and we had to find detours. The old general store has been boarded up for decades and is in a state of picturesque decay. Many of our relatives are in the old cemetery just outside of town. Downtown is decrepit, and the three of us don’t look so hot anymore, either.
Standing outside the house where we grew up, we contemplated the changes… the missing barn and outhouses, some trees that were gone. It felt as unfamiliar as New Orleans had felt. I looked down and my eyes rested on a piece of pavement, an old, old piece of the path that leads from the safety of our old porch to the road that winds up through the ridge and out of town. I could remember walking that path in bare, calloused feet, as clearly as though I’d done it just the day before. The wind rustled a familiar song through the trees that my grandfather planted decades before I was born. My brother and sister and husband stood just a few feet away, next to a car with out-of-state plates, waiting for me. And for a moment, I wasn’t a stranger there. I knew who I was. I knew what I was there for.
I was there to say goodbye.
© 2012 by April Elliott Kent