Sunday, January 27, 2008


Part of the joy and agony of going away is wondering whether or not you'll ever come back. Listening to Ringo Starr's new song, Liverpool 8, a sentimental ode to who he was and where he emerged, I found myself thinking about my own hometown -- St.Catharines, Ontario -- and Ringo's lyrics gradually became my lyrics, and Ringo's melody felt, for a moment, like the soundtrack to a life that I am currently living.

Destiny was calling,
I just couldn't stick around,
Liverpool I left you,
But I never let you down

I don't think 'destiny' was calling me, per se (or at least no more nor less than it beckons any one of us), but it's a very odd thing, the choices we make in life, and the various, often diverging paths that emanate from each and every action.

I lived for the first nineteen years of my life in one place, and only left it for family vacations in the spring and summer, sunshine jaunts to Myrtle Beach or cottage getaways in northern Ontario. I couldn't imagine ever leaving St.Catharines -- for how on earth do you leave the only world you've ever learned -- but I knew that I would, and the decision was made somewhat easier by my parents' decision to move to Manotick, Ontario, just outside Ottawa, the summer after my first year in university. Since 1995, I've only been back two or three times to the place that raised me.

In between, I've lived in Japan, Cambodia, and the Philippines, visited Big Buddhas and Khmer temples, slept in hospitals in Thailand and been almost mugged in Phnom Penh. For someone who was raised a diplomat's kid, perhaps, this would be par for the course before puberty, but for somebody from St.Catharines, who considered a trek by city bus downtown somewhat exotic, this has been not only mind-blowing, but mind-altering, too.

When I was little, my dad used to take me flying in the small plane he sometimes flew on weekends, and we would search for our house through all the miles that separated the sky from the land. I think life is like that, and I sometimes wonder if I'm still in that plane. You go up, up, and away, and everything after that is a downward search, through the clouds, seeing what there is to see through the mist that weaves its way through the heavens like chimney smoke that has somehow drifted too high for its own good.

Hearing Ringo's new tune brought back my own love of my hometown, and I wonder -- not often, but sometimes -- how it's doing. How the roads are. (One of the advantages of having started distance running as a teen is that I was able to see my town foot-level through its streets, daily, watching and wondering.) How the winter snow falls on the lake that lay outside my childhood house. Who's running Pete's barber shop in the plaza near my house, where I got my hair cut every month for almost twenty years of my life.

Liverpool I left you,
But I never left you down.

I like that line. As if you have an obligation to honor the place and time that fed and housed you.

I hope I haven't let St.Catharines down.