As I have been thinking about yearning the last week, I have come to the realization that this is not about renouncing or pursuing our desires, that which we yearn for in our lives. Rather, it is about understanding our yearnings and the lessons behind it. As I did, I was reminded of a film I saw almost 30 years ago now, called The Trip to Bountiful.
In this film, Mrs. Watts, a sensitive old woman living in the city with her son and his wife, develops a yearning to visit her family home, now long abandoned, in Bountiful, Texas. Her daughter-in-law interprets this wish as sentimental senility, and she convinces her husband to thwart the old lady's attempts to take a train or bus to visit her long-abandoned homestead. Mrs. Watts expresses the elemental nature of her longing plainly: 'I haven't had my hands in dirt in twenty years. My hands feel the need of dirt.
Finally, Mrs. Watts finds her way, picking an understanding friend and losing her purse, which contains the pension check she had planned on using as a stake for setting up a new life back home. To her daughter-in-law, this check represents money needed to pay the rent in the city; to Mrs. Watts the check's loss is an opportunity to be free of the future. A sheriff finally drives her to her home, where the land has gone to weed and the people of her childhood have all died. Still, having made this brief visit, she is content. She is well aware that her home is truly bountiful. Thinking about her loveless marriage and the problems of her friends, she says, 'Well, I don't think about these things now. But they're all part of Bountiful.'
This scene, to me is powerful because it gets at how our attachment to the past, despite our desire to liberate ourselves from it, are not only necessary, but bountiful, rich, and full of meaning in and of itself. As I age, and more and more of those I know and love are moving to a bountiful of their own, I realize that often we yearn for that bountiful home in our lives. Bountiful is that space we yearn for that is nurturing. It is that space where we yearn to be surrounded by the familiar, even if it is not as we remember or envision, but necessary to our existence.
My wife returned from our cousin Bruce’s homegoing ceremony as he is now living in Bountiful. Upon her return, she gave me the program and a card from the service with Bruce’s picture on it. Every time, I look at it I have that memory, even for a moment of the trips to Bountiful we made together in our own ways over quiche, ziti, and lemon drop cookies.
I know this is not how Bruce looks today, however, when I look at his picture, I am able to nurture the memory of my relationship with a person who allows let me know I was loved, welcomed, and a part of his family. There will come a time I will see him again in the state of bountiful in which he now resides, but until then I yearn for the memories and the feelings they bring to my heart and soul. In the meantime, I am on a constant and never ending journey, as we all are, on our own personal trip to bountiful.