Standing in the slow-moving customs queue in the Toronto airport, waiting to have my passport checked, I thought of the famous adage “You can’t go home again,” coined by author Thomas Wolfe. It was Sunday, Rosh Hashanah eve, and I was headed to my childhood home to spend Yom Tov with my parents. As an adult with grown children of my own, coming home for the holidays is both comforting and nostalgic. Was I really returning home, or just to the memories of what once was?

“You can’t go home again” has become a commonly used idiom to mean that once you have left your provincial, backwater hometown for a sophisticated metropolis, you cannot return to the narrow confines of your Was I really returning home?previous, conservative, simple way of life. It suggests that people permanently outgrow their upbringing when they carve out an independent adult life.

But it is also wistful, romanticizing the simplicity of childhood. Because the phrase implies that you really wish you could go home again—back home to your family, back home to your childhood . . . away from all the strife and conflict of the world . . . back home to the old forms and systems, which once seemed everlasting but are changing all the time. As Bob Seger sang, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” We yearn to return to an innocence lost, a place that has ceased to exist.

Leaving the airport, I drove the familiar streets of my native town, and realized that it is surprisingly disconcerting to find myself so simultaneously in my element and out of it. I never stop thinking of Toronto as home, in the fundamental sense of the term. It’s where I come from, what I really understand, the yardstick against which all else is measured.

Even before the heavy wooden door of home clanged open, I heard my parents excitedly calling my name in welcome, and I was enveloped in the mouth-watering smells of my mother’s signature Yom Tov dishes emanating from the kitchen, unexpectedly flooding me with detailed and arousing reminiscences.

Absorbed sights, sounds, smells, nurturing feelings, beloved faces, fragments of experiences remain indelibly impressed on the mind long after the full reality is lost to oblivion, forming our memories. Sacred memories that paint portraits on our souls, lifelong companions that sustain us for the rest of our lives and guide us to new levels of seeing, feeling, perceiving and being.

Joseph, who evolved to greatness while alone in a foreign land, garnered the necessary strength to remain true to his identity because he saw the image of his father Jacob in his mind. And in accessing his experiences with his father, Joseph saw his roots, his foundation, his own image, his own potential.

It is our memories that sustain us, that connect us to our roots. But if we’re lucky to still have our parents with us, we can and should continue to develop that relationship in the present. Many of us, including myself, spend our lives lounging in the safe confines of the parent-child relationship we knew in the past, never challenging the way we communicate with the people who created us. That is, perhaps, until we start to feel that familiar safety net is becoming threatened, until we grasp that our parents will not be around forever.

I was glad to be in the moment this Rosh Hashanah with my parents. I was glad to be in the momentAs Yom Tov began, the world slowed down and distractions disappeared. In every mundane interaction, my parents’ beauty and goodness shone, and I basked in their warmth, their nurturing, their undivided attention, replenishing the treasure house of my memories. I look forward to “going home again” while I still can.

As my plane circled before landing at LaGuardia, I pondered the value of memories—they cannot be overstated, and their implications are far greater than I can imagine. I disembarked surprisingly refreshed and strengthened, determined to live up to my best self.

For all of our history adds up to what we are—or what, at least, we are always trying our best to be.