I was in my childhood home of Roseburg, Oregon this last June. I sat by my mother’s bedside while she lay dying. During one of her last conscious moments, I took her hand and smiled into her eyes as I told her how grateful I am to her and my father for raising me in Roseburg. I told her of my love for this beautiful place. How, even though I’m over fifty, I am still connected to its hills and rivers, the trees and the meadows. I know the roads as well as I know the veins in my own hands.
On that June day, I reminisced with my mother over how whenever I called, she would give me a detailed account of the weather of that particular day. She always ended every report with the same phrase. It’s beautiful here.”She smiled up at me then, and for one breath my mom became clear and cognizant. “I’m glad we raised you here, too, honey, and I’m glad you love it. It’s so beautiful.” I cried in that moment as I expressed my love for my childhood home and then told my mother I loved her. She said she loved me too, before she fell back asleep. It was our last real conversation as she began to slip away.
As I sat holding her hand, my heart swelled with love for my blessed childhood, and the community that helped make that happen. And even though I was losing her, I still was blessed with a sense of place that came directly from where I grew up and the people who make Roseburg my home, even in the midst of personal and now community loss.
As the day after the horrible massacre at UCC has plodded on, I’ve seen pictures of carnage and destruction, but I’ve seen more pictures of the candle light vigil and law enforcement officers doing good things. My Facebook feed shows one particular hero who took five bullets so that others wouldn’t have to take any, and health care workers who patched up the living while at the same time mourning the loss of those they couldn’t save.
I’ve been planning to go home within the next few months. Both of my parents are buried there, and since my mother passed away, I feel an even greater connection to Roseburg, although I don’t know why, exactly. But I look forward to heading home—to the place I love above all other places. I will hike its hills, and feel that same sense of awe, as I always do, at the beauty that spreads before me within the valleys of the Umpqua. And I will hear my mother’s voice telling me of the weather and the beauty of that given day.
Some might think it odd that during my last conversation with my mom, we would choose to talk about where I was raised. But for those of us who grew up in this little sliver of paradise, it’s not odd at all. It’s not just a conversation about a place or the weather or the pretty hills. It’s a conversation about home. And as I watch the community I love grapple with the devastating tragedy of October 1st, I see an even more profound beauty in the people who are a part of that lovely corner of the world, and there’s no other place I’d rather call home. Because my mother was right, it truly is beautiful.