My Four Homes

By

Leonard Zwelling

It’s where they have to take you in when no one else will. That’s home. I have one house, but four homes.

The house is in Bellaire, but my heart has four homes—four places it feels it can return to when an emotional boost is needed.

Houston is still number one. I am one of those New Yorkers who believes that I wasn’t born in Texas, but got there as fast as I could. As the post-Harvey response of the city has shown, it is America’s diversity center with a heart of gold. I still refer to MD Anderson as “we.” How nuts is that? I haven’t worked there since 2013, yet the tug of identity with the place I worked for twenty-nine years does not vanish with the first retirement check from the PRS. It took me many years to feel like a Texan, but I do now and that will never go away. My funeral plot is here. Parts of me will likely remain for quite some time.

But there are three other places that I call home.

I was born in Connecticut and lived there twice before I was seven, but I remember little of it and I was never of it at all.

New York is my childhood home. Long Island to be precise, but it is Manhattan that stirs my blood to this day. It is the place where I roamed as a teenager and walking down the street is enough to raise my blood pressure in anticipation of the next thrill—be it Broadway, Barneys or Boulud. I couldn’t live there any more. It’s too noisy. But in four-day aliquots, it is the space to which I must return once a year and remind myself from whence I have come. In my marrow, is New York City.

In my dreams is Durham, North Carolina, the home of Duke University where I spent nine formative years becoming a physician. I also became a husband there after having met the cute Jewish girl in the freshman class in 1971 in the medical school library. Forty-five years later, we still return to the most beautiful campus in the world. We just left Sunday where we stopped to play golf on a magnificent course that outdid the more highly touted ones at Pinehurst, an hour and fifteen minutes away. Driving the highways of the Piedmont of North Carolina in September is only surpassed by the same drive as the leaves turn colors. It is beautiful.

If New York is my head, Durham and Duke are my heart. My pulse slows there. My mind wanders there to what was so many years ago, yet is always a part of me because Genie and I are still together and there are now five Duke diplomas in our family. The reason I got so angry about the proposal entertained by the previous Duke president to hold a call to Muslim prayers from the Duke Chapel and the removal of the defaced statue of Robert E. Lee from the same Chapel by the new Duke president is because when it comes to Duke, I resist change. It’s foolish, of course. Duke is for those who run it now and attend it now, but the alumni hold it as a most precious place. It is one they remember as it was and would like a part of it to stay as it is.

My final home is much farther away. No, it’s not Washington, DC where I also lived for nine years and then again for a year in 2008-2009. No one really lives in Washington, DC. It’s all about transients—people who came there as fast as they could and many who leave soon thereafter. Washington is the home of the government, but it’s not the place to which you voluntarily return for emotional strength or inspiration. If you do, you will likely be disappointed.

My fourth home is in Jerusalem because that is where my soul is. No matter how many times I visit the Western Wall or the Via Dolorosa or Bethlehem or Rachel’s Tomb, the area of Israel around Jerusalem is the crossroads of the three major religions of the world. If the holy spirit visits you anywhere, it will likely be in Jerusalem. The Arab-Israeli conflict is both real and imagined there as the lines are drawn in the sand and stepped over every day by Israelis and Arabs who are friends. The West Bank is right there across the Green Line. Like the barbecue, hush puppies and Brunswick stew in Durham, the hummus, halavah, and falafel in Jerusalem at the shouk (market) make you know where you are with your eyes closed.

These are my four homes. I love them all. I still love Houston best of all, but I go to the other three as often as I can. They lift my mind, my dreams and my soul. Try them. You might like them.

Leonard Zwelling