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You Can Go Home Again

by Neal Rogin

From The Graduate Review, October 1976

When I left Chicago for San Francisco six years ago, I cut myself off from my family with a meat cleaver, and disappeared. I would call home every couple of months with a new address and a new guru, as I floated around California trying to find out who the hell I was.

Now it was a Tuesday afternoon, and I was on a plane going back to be with my family and to share myself with them at the first Chicago Special Guest Seminar.

As I watched the flat quilt of the Kansas countryside slide below me, I remembered a time when I talked to a woman at a guest seminar. She was about my mother’s age. I was telling her about the training when she asked me how I got along with my parents. When I began to tell her about them, I had a realization that nearly knocked me over. I realized that my parents loved me – that they always have and always will. I saw that all my parents ever wanted for me was to experience satisfaction in my life. They wanted me to scratch the same itch that I wanted me to scratch. How simple! The total source of the conflict, upsets, and non communication between us had come out of the fact that I disagreed with the form they put their love in. My whole life had been organized around my attempts to prove I could make it “my way,” whatever that meant.

Werner Erhard once said that “the purpose of a family is to provide an environment with freedoms and boundaries within which a being can recognize and discover who he or she really is.” I wanted more than anything else for my parents to experience that they had parented. That they had raised a son whose life was complete and overflowing with love and satisfaction. If I could get them to that, they could experience completion as parents. As the wheels of the plane touched the ground in Chicago’s O’Hare Field, I was very clear that that was my intention. I also knew, as I walked off the plane, that I had no idea how I was going to do that.

The next thing I remember is being hugged. After everyone had been sufficiently squeezed and embraced, we began to walk arm in arm down the corridor to the baggage area. As we walked I noticed for the first time that my parents were two people. My mother is a lovely short woman who loves to laugh. My father is a lovely short man who loves to make people laugh, except he gets embarrassed about it sometimes so his jokes don’t always work, which makes him even funnier. I experienced this incredible glow coming from my mother’s face when she looked at me. A glow of love that I am sure has always been there had I not been too hip and too cool to notice before. And from my father I sensed a pride so intense that he was about to burst, although he would never let anyone know what was going on with him.

My family was even more excited about the Special Guest Seminar than I was. Counting my parents, my brother, my two sisters, their husbands, and their guests, the Rogin contingent would be about 20 strong.

“Did you write the speeches they are going to give?’ my mother asked as we drove home.

“No mom. They won’t be making speeches. They are going to talk about the training.”

“Will they talk about you?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Is Warren going to be there?”

“Werner, mom. And no, he has other things to do.”

“So he sent you?”

“Uh, yes, I guess he did.”

We spent the next day and a half sitting around the kitchen table, eating, talking, laughing, eating, reminiscing, eating, sharing, joking and eating. Every so often we would stop and take a meal break. My mother must have cooked every one of my fourteen favorite dishes in the 36 hours that I was there.

I don’t remember what we talked about. All I remember is that it was warm. And real. More real than anything I ever remembered. When I talked, they listened. When they talked, I listened. We told each other things we had never told each other before. I told my father that it would be alright with me if he lightened up, and I told my mother that she could take responsibility for being terrific if she wanted to. They got it.

On the night of the Special Guest Seminar there were a thousand people at the Ambassador West Hotel. Randy McNamara was brilliant as usual. At the break, I walked around and talked to people while my family chatted with some other graduates. I was sharing with a guest when I felt a firm but friendly punch in my shoulder. I turned to see two steel-blue eyes staring at me from under a head of black curly hair.

“ How ya doin, man?”

It was Rob, a seventeen year old youngster whom I had met at the est Ten-Day Teen Training. He was wearing a suit and his face was beaming. A far cry from the slouching, arrogant, badass, street-smart young tough that I had seen at the training. We embraced.

“What are you doing, Rob?” I asked.

He went into an enthusiastic description of how he was now the assistant manager for a chain of stores and how turned on he was about his job and could I come in and check it out and…

We talked until the break was over. We exchanged a “right on” handshake, and he walked proudly away between his father, who had taken the training, and his step-mother, who was soon going to.

The seminar ended, and I joined my family again.

“So?” I said.

“So?” they answered in unison.

My brother, my two sisters and their husbands had all registered. My brother-in-law took me aside.

“I don’t know much about this est thing, brother, but if you dig est, that’s good enough for me.”

And my parents? Well, bless their hearts, they are still teetering on the edge of, “I don’t need it.” And “maybe we’ll do it if the kids like it.” I predict April for them.

Back in San Francisco, I once again experience myself as completely transformed. I am no longer coming from my past, no longer running away from home, no longer trying to make it, trying to become a grownup. My parents know that they have completed their job with me. I am, and they know it. They love me totally, and I know it. And all of us know that all of us know.

In her special way, my mother let me know that she is aware of what my job is in life, of my relationship with Werner, and why I am serving people.

It happened on the morning that I left to return to San Francisco. As my father was putting my luggage in the car, I walked up to my parent’s bedroom to say goodbye to my mother. She was still asleep. I woke her with a kiss. We talked for a few minutes. There was a warm, cheerful kind of sadness, a sweet feeling of melancholy between us. I told her I loved her, kissed her goodbye, and started walking out of the room.

“Neal,” she called after me.

“I turned in the doorway as she rolled over with her arm across her eyes. She looked at me through the crook in her elbow, gave me a sleepy smile and said,

“Keep making people happy.”

Neal Rogin is a professional writer and former member of the est staff. In this article, he describes his experiences of himself and his family as the first Special Guest Seminar took place in his native Chicago. You Can Go Home Again seems particularly appropriate this month, as first trainings are being announced in Houston, Philadelphia, and Seattle.