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What I find so hard and why Houston is so much like Heaven is that I know there will be many great things in my new place. Things I will not be able to imagine. New friends unasked for and unlooked for whom God will put in my path. New opportunities that I would never have dreamt of myself. But like Heaven, I know that there is a death to be had to get there.

Houston is to me a great deal like Heaven at this moment. I know that might sound odd to some. The first time I went there in 1998 I myself made jokes about its endless highways looping around the city as Dantean circles of Hell. And a friend who lives on its outskirts sends me news items about its more heinous crimes a couple times a week.

Yet I am not making claims to its nature as a terrestrial paradise. It is that I’m moving there this summer as I take a new job at the University of St. Thomas in that city (no relation to my current employer). As with Heaven, the joys of Houston seem rather notional at the moment.

It is not that I have no imagination of Houston. I’ve been there five times now. Professionally, I am excited about taking on a new job at a university that has a dynamic Catholic and liberal arts education. Politically, I am thrilled about the adventure of moving to a red state in the south. Is it possible my non-left votes might count in statewide elections? Chiropractically, I am relieved to get a break from snow shoveling and falling on ice patches. Geographically, I am champing at the bit to take short road trips to parts of the Southeast and Southwest since I have never lived south of northern Indiana.

No, there are many things to look forward to. But the reality is that moving in midlife is as tough or tougher than moving as a child. As it so happens, it was forty years ago in May that I moved for the first time in my life. I know that friends don’t let friends remind them that 1982 was that long ago—a longer span of time than from D-Day to 1982—but it’s true. And I remember it like it was yesterday.

We were only moving from Lakeville, Indiana, about eight miles east over to Bremen, Indiana. And I knew Bremen a little since my dad worked there, my doctor had his office there, and I had some cousins and a great aunt in town. But still, at age eight, it’s pretty traumatic. No longer would I go to school with my friends at Lakeville Elementary. No longer would I be next door to Donnie Ingle, my several-years-older neighbor who had taught me both some naughty words and a bit about baseball and basketball. No more would I have a big back yard that was surrounded on two sides by fields, one of which let me hike back into the woods. No more would there be the possibility of our house, down a hill from the highway, having snow piled to the roof of the garage as it had in the Blizzard of ’78.  Instead, I would move into the bigger town (4,000 as opposed to about 500) to Collier Street and live on a residential street by the public park with the swimming pool and the baseball and softball fields.

There were some consolations. Because we were moving two weeks before my second grade ended, my mother said she would drive me to my old school every day to finish out the year. There was also the fact that I would live by a park. And my friend Andrew lived there. It was his house that I had stayed at five years before when my little brother was born. (I still recall as a three-year-old being put out by Mrs. Rader serving me liver, though I was very excited to get a ride on a horse.) So I had that going for me. But it was still frightening. Would Andrew be my only friend? Would other kids like me? Would I get to play baseball? Would I like the school I was going to? The questions were endless.

The day we got to the new house, I was out in the driveway playing when Michael, one of the boys from down the street, came over with a big long metal wire and acted somewhat menacing. I think I looked a bit frightened, because Ben from across the street came over and told me his name and told me Michael was just playing around and not to worry.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It so happened that Andrew and Ben were very good friends, so I would get to share my friend’s friend with him. Later that summer the new principal of the elementary school moved onto the block. His son, Andy, also became a very good friend all through grade school and high school. And Michael and a bunch of other kids lived on the block, too. A couple years later we would, in the wake of the thrilling 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, host our own Collier Street Olympics mostly organized by Perry and Brent, two of the older kids on the block. That pool across the park became my summer home. I would find a baseball team that, the first year I played on it, finished next to last in the regular season but rallied to finish second in the tournament. And the school in Bremen was really a good one with talented teachers who both kept me in line and challenged me. My parents thought it a bit better than the one I had come from, which, by the way, soon merged with the neighboring LaPaz Elementary. Though I missed seeing my other friends and though I remained nostalgic about our first home, Bremen had become my home.

Being 48 and moving is a bit different from being eight. I don’t worry about making new friends as much—I have more than just the one I was starting with in Bremen so long ago. Nor do I worry too much about my new school. Several of the Houston friends I have are professors there. I think I’ll be able to find a softball team to play on; I’m no longer so choosy about which position I get to play as I used to be. The playing’s the thing. And the neighborhoods in the part of Houston we are looking at almost all have swimming pools, so this will be just like 1983 again in that respect. But there are some differences that are harder.

I’m not even talking about the hassles of buying and selling the house, all the changes of address, finding new schools for my kids, and the hassle of getting everything ready. Those are difficult but come with the territory of being a grown-up. I’m not terribly good at them, though my wife is, and I’m used to dealing with them. No, it’s something different.

What I find so hard and why Houston is so much like Heaven is that I know there will be many great things in my new place. Things I will not be able to imagine. New friends unasked for and unlooked for whom God will put in my path. New opportunities that I would never have dreamt of myself. But like Heaven, I know that there is a death to be had to get there. At eight I was leaving my whole known world, but that world’s memories were only about five years in the making. The days of liver and horse rides are about as far back as they go.

It was hard to leave then, but I have been in St. Paul for 21 years now and it is much harder. It’s the longest time I have ever lived in one place. It has been the city of my entire married life, the place where all my children were born and baptized, the place where I really learned how to teach in the program I am leaving. It is where I have made countless friends, shared countless meals, cigars, and drinks while solving or griping about the world’s problems with second selves that I do not deserve.

People ask me if I am excited about the good things. I am. But my heart is aching at the same time as I get ready to leave this place where I have known so much love and friendship. I do not doubt that God is calling me to Houston now as he called me to Bremen, Indiana, when I was a child, St. Paul, Minnesota, as a young adult and as, I hope, he will call me to Heaven one day. But this move, echoing the earlier ones and foreshadowing the future one, is a kind of death.

Ask me next year how I’m doing. My guess is I’ll have marvelous things to tell you about things unimaginable now, people for whom I will wonder how it was that I could get along all my life without knowing them, places that will be precious to me. But right now I am mourning another place where I have friends I never asked to have, opportunities that came to me without my ever thinking to seek them, and places to which I would never have come were it not for the strange providence of God who giveth and taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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