Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard several stories about the impact of the Wolverine Fire on those living in Holden when it blew up, who were evacuated as a result, and who have become known far and wide as “the Holden exiles.”
I’m going to talk about the fire from another point of view—that of a Holden expatriate.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I mailed our volunteer application on January 5. At the end of March, we learned that our application had been accepted, and that the Village could use us for three weeks in August. We both arranged to take time off, rushed to complete work and house projects, stopped the newspaper, and taught our youngest daughter how to start the lawnmower. We were due to arrive here on August 16. On July 31 we received notice of the evacuation. You can pretty much figure out what happened after that.
Like all of you, we waited to see what would happen. Some of the activities we engaged in while we were waiting included:
There is a reason for all of this.
At any given time, there are a few people whose lives allow or compel them to actually be in residence at Holden Village. But no one is a permanent resident of this place. For me, for you, and for many thousands of others, our time at Holden is occasional and temporary—sometimes lasting for a few days, sometimes for a few weeks, and sometimes—if we are lucky—for a few months.
In between visits, we try to explain this place to friends who have never been here, and who may not share our spiritual views. We describe Holden as part small town, part commune, part monastery, part ivy tower, and part chain gang—our voices becoming more and more strident and our eyes growing wider and wider as we talk—not unlike someone describing the wonders of Costco to someone who has never entered the store.
But no matter how much we love this place, at some point, every one of us who has ever lived here has to leave. At that point we become part of the enormous and ever-expanding community of expatriates.
The transition from resident to expatriate is often very difficult. And if Holden has done what it should, the rest of your life is also likely to be difficult. You will miss this beautiful, threadbare place. You will miss the interesting, talented, and eccentric people you have met here. You will miss the rhythm of beginning and ending each day with worship. You will miss the stimulation that results from doing honest, basic work while being intellectually and spiritually inspired. You will miss the joys and considerable challenges of trying to live in community. You will see the world differently from the way you did when you came here, and differently from many of the people around you. You will be a different person. You will find it hard to be complacent. You will find it hard to fit in. You will have questions about things that others take for granted.
In my case I liken it to having a permanent rock in my shoe—every time I take a step, I am reminded that I have been called to live a considered life, to ask hard questions, to take the road less traveled. I often fail to live up to these challenges. The rock in my shoe is often painful, and often makes me unhappy. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
It is my fervent wish for each person who visits Holden that when the time comes for you to leave the Village, when it comes time for you to join the expatriate community, you will all head down the mountain with rocks in your shoes.