Two seemingly unrelated stories recently captured my attention. One came my way while on an afternoon date with my wife. The other arrived the same night, as I sat down and read a book written by a long-term friend. By the time I called it a day, I realized the two stories shared a common theme: home.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is the movie. By now, most of us know it’s the story of how Walt Disney and Pamela Travers ultimately agree that he make a movie based on the novel Mary Poppins. Neither finds the experience an easy one. Traver’s self-imposed sense of guilt over her father’s alcoholism, ultimate subjugation to the world of business, and death made it difficult for her to trust anyone with Mary Poppins. The novel, as is so often the case with fiction writers, was her attempt to recast the story, so that in the end the father figure (Mr. Banks) is saved and the family preserved. I found myself deeply moved by the tale of a writer whose fictionalized version of the story of her childhood home came to isolate her from others and separate her from actual home and family. Only when she turned loose of the novel was she set free to remember, mourn, cry and laugh her way home. Made more nearly whole, she escaped from “writer’s block” and began to produce additional stories about Mary Poppins.
Travers could not fully live until she reconnected and made a new kind of peace with home.
Anyway, after dinner I sat down to read a book entitled Going Back to New Orleans: Post-Katrina Re-Connections and Recollections. The author Bert Montgomery lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where he serves as pastor of University Baptist Church and teaches religion courses at Mississippi State University. I’ve known Bert for nearly two decades. At one time, I served as his pastor. In one way or another, I’ve interacted with Bert as he felt his way into his calling as a minister and writer.
I can’t speak for Bert (though he will read this post before I release it and have ample opportunity to correct me!), but I’ve always sensed a restlessness within him. I could never quite put my finger on the source, but he seemed to me to be looking for something he had not yet found. As I read Going Back to New Orleans, I saw that Bert himself had discovered what he needed: a reconnection with his New Orleans roots and the integration of those roots with his present day life.
The book itself collects the stories of Bert’s New Orleans friends, family members and others—people he knew as a child and teenager—who in some way lived through the experience of Hurricane Katrina. Each story is unique, yet as Bert puts it, “these are stories of living in, being removed from, and ultimately going back to…New Orleans.” When all is said and done, the stories enable Bert to integrate his first eighteen years of life with his adult life.
When I finished Going Back to New Orleans, I sat for a while in silence. I found myself pondering the matter of home, life after home, and the ways (healthy and unhealthy) in which we connect or disconnect the two.
My strong hunch is much of our inner restlessness finds its source in our inability to integrate our birth home with our larger life. Saving Mr. Banks and Going Back to New Orleans—in quite different yet powerful ways—give me hope that we can do better.