I started my posts on this site by offering a narrative my own experience; I’ll end it in the same way. This little narrative points to the end of community, of a place for our being, that children of divorce need. For more see the final chapter to The Children of Divorce.
Just months after my parents’ divorce was finalized, my mom moved out of our family home, a house my family had lived in since I was in kindergarten. She explained that she wanted to be closer to work. It seemed like a logical reason, and in her place I would have made the same decision. Yet I still felt at odds about it. I realized that this house, this place where I became me, would no longer be part of my life. I silently grieved that I would never be able to take my own children to this house, showing them the basement where I had played hours and hours of floor hockey, shooting a worn tennis ball into the back of a net, working out who I was as I contemplated the mysteries of the universe with stick in hand.
I suppose that even if my parents had stayed together, they more than likely would have moved to another house and eventually given some stranger the keys to the place where I became me. This felt different. It wasn’t so much that the title of house was no longer in my family’s name; it was that the family that once lived within its walls no longer existed. My parents were no longer a community of shared memory in which the life and history of that house would live on, even if we would never enter its walls again. With my mom’s move the family house I had known for twenty years seemed to disappear into the infinitely deep crack that now separated my parents. It felt like the house had not simply transferred ownership but had been negated; it had been eliminated from the universe, and my place in the world went with it.
This negation of family home for me came with none of the drama that it did for Kara. After the divorce of her parents, the suburban hobby farm where her family lived was sold to a developer, who, having no need for the house itself, allowed the local fire department to set it ablaze as a training exercise, literally reducing it to a heap of ashes. After the house burned to the ground, bulldozers showed up to radically transform the topography of these few acres, making them receptive to a new water treatment plant to serve the rapidly encroaching cul-de-sacs and suburban streets. Halfway through the destruction process, Kara’s sixteen-year-old sister, Callie, visited the site. In the early evening air, all alone, Callie climbed into the tree house that still remained nestled in the broad branches of the large tree that stood next to where the house had been. Sitting there overlooking the ugly emptiness that had swallowed her home, she could only cry. This little tree house, which had fallen out of use as the children had become teenagers, was all that remained of the family that had lived in this place.
As she sat there, between her tears and breaths she could hear the faint sound of whining. Collecting herself, she climbed down to investigate. It was a cat, and not just any cat, but their family cat, “Momma Cat,” who had lived both inside their home and outside in the small barn that had also been burnt to the ground. Standing there looking at Momma Cat, now surrounded by plowed dirt and vacant lots, she felt as lost and utterly abandoned as the cat. Without this place, without this farm, Momma Cat was simply an old stray, worthless to most. Without this place, without home, Callie—and Kara and I as well—wondered if in our parents’ divorce we had ourselves become strays, people without a place, people without belonging.
In this final chapter we turn to a question more than likely on your mind throughout the last several chapters. That question, of course, is, in knowing all of this, what can be done? I fear even broaching the question, let alone seeking to answer it. I fear to do so not only because I worry my answers may not be right, but more because I fear that in our search to solve problems, we might avoid the heaviness of the issue itself. We may think that somehow, if we do certain things, everything will be fixed. As the stories above testify, divorce for children is about much more than transition, it is about ontology; it is about having a place to belong and be, now that the union that created us has split. This is not something easily and simply mended. Yet, if anything can be done, it will have to be something that addresses this very issue. If the issue is only knowledge, then education should be our goal; if the issue with divorce is primarily social capital, then to policies and legislation is where we should direct our attention. But if divorce is an issue of lost being that is constituted in the community of biological father and mother, then the action we take for young people of divorce must place community at the center. So I contend that what children of divorce need most is not strategies for thinking correctly, but a place to belong, a community in which their humanity is upheld. If the home in which they had their being has been negated in divorce, a community beyond the family, which nevertheless embraces its actuality, is needed to ground their being somewhere. What kind of community must this be?
It must be a community that knows life and death, a community that seeks to be real in light of the unreal. It must be a community that proclaims that in its life, in its actions of being with and for one another, it participates in the fullness of God’s love for the world. It must be a community that is not constituted in functions, but like the family is based in persons, and has the goal of loving and being with one another. It must be a community that, as Loder said at the end of the last chapter, asserts and witnesses in its life that it “knows a power stronger than a mother’s love.”