We headed across the street at halftime to the local watering hole where someone is always celebrating Homecoming. The class of 1978 was already there celebrating their 35th; they were the cool seniors when I was a sophomore. Of course there were many more folks, including myself, who graduated somewhere in between.
I noticed on my annual assignment judging cakes, cookies and breads at the N.C. State Fair this year that the staff wore shirts touting Homecoming as well. It was Homecoming at the new church I visited in October, and my BFF invited me to Homecoming at her church the following week.
Of course I headed to Pirate Country for ECU Homecoming and even attended the game this year. I rounded out the month speaking at a conference for educators and child care professionals, which felt a lot like coming home since they were the catalyst for launching my company over two decades ago. Some folks remembered me from last year, and literally welcomed me with open arms.
Homecoming is apparently a preamble to the onset of Advent; an exciting opportunity to renew relationships, cultivate connections and relive shared experiences. It is more an aura than an event, and occurs formally and informally all the time.
Firefighters, first responders, public safety personnel and their families celebrate Homecoming year round. Every time you transition between work and home is a special event, considering you put your life on the line for others every day. Whether arriving at the firehouse or home to your personal abode, embrace the reunion as a blessing to behold and be thankful for those who anticipate your arrival.
Long shifts, strange schedules, and chaotic challenges can make homecoming intermittent and unique each time. It may depend on the calls you have answered, the people you have worked with and the amount of sleep you have gotten, among other infinite elements of your existence including what’s happened on the home front during your absence. The longer it’s been, the more crucial it is to catch up.
My niece is married to a firefighter and I have learned a lot about the Brotherhood by simply spending time with her and her family.
When she was hospitalized with a brain aneurism I was amazed by the volume of visitors who came from the firehouses where her husband works. They lined up to take his shifts and told him to go home to focus on his family until his wife was well. Sometimes we have sleep overs when her husband is gone and he always shows up with her favorite Starbucks treat in hand.
I visited him at the firehouse once to get a feel for the environment and to interview a few of his colleagues in preparation for my presentation at the South Atlantic Fire and Rescue Expo. What a treat it was to immerse myself in the experience of Brotherhood, which until then I had only observed from the outside.
I realize now that what I used to call fire stations are clearly fire houses; they are homes where firefighters live, learn, love and laugh together. They are sacred spaces shared by service centered professionals, committed to caring for others. The paradox of dual loyalty can be a double edged sword, creating challenges on both sides of the home front fence. Family members may be envious of the time, talent and passion their loved ones invest in their profession. And the Brotherhood becons their brethren to hang out at the firehouse, even on days off.
What do you expect when you come home? What do others expect of you?
How do you prepare for homecoming, and how are you received?
A small amount of sensitivity, planning and preparation can go a long way towards smoothing transitions and building strong relationships on both sides. Consider these simple strategies:
Keep in Touch
Stay in contact with loved ones while you are away so you are abreast of the activities they have experienced in your absence. Today’s technology makes it is so simple to keep in touch; a timely text, voice mail, email or call can keep you connected, avoid surprises and confirm that everyone is safe. If nothing else, it communicates caring and insures others that you are thinking of them.
Take Time to Transition
The environments where you work and live are likely very different; physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically. Take time to transition and focus your energy on the people you are preparing to join. Take a break between the two if this is feasible for you and your family. If not, simply sneak a few minutes when you get to where you are going, even if you have to do it in the privacy of the bathroom. You may need to recalibrate your relationships depending on how long you have been gone, and the experiences you have encountered in the interim.
Always Share a Warm Greeting
I typically shy from the word always, but this time it works. Everyone deserves a warm greeting, including you. Research suggests that the first few moments of interaction set the stage and the tone for future exchanges. Keep in mind that emotions are literally energy in motion and they have the power to make or break an event, an experience and a relationship.It’s not necessary to bring treats or gifts; a simple smile, hug and/or kiss, kind words, or genuine gestures of good will work fine. My in-laws always kissed upon greeting and parting; a tradition they upheld for decades and a value passed on to their son.
Be in the Moment
You know this is crucial on a call, but have you invested the same focused presence in your personal life?
Invest yourself and your energy in the experience at hand; practice positive presence, being fully attentive and available in all relationships and you will encourage the same in others. Focus your attention on current priorities, embracing the power of NOW.
Home truly is where the heart is.
Where do you come home to, and when?
Whether you are coming home to family and friends, an empty apartment, a firehouse or a farm, each time you transition between work and home is a Homecoming. It may be a daily thing, or more intermittent, depending on a variety of circumstances.
Though you may not realize your return is a special event, it is when you work in a profession with the potential of losing your life each day. You may not see it this way, but chances are your family may. Anticipate, embrace and enjoy where you are and who you are with each day. Your presence is a precious present so treat it accordingly. Happy Homecoming!