If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you probably noticed the recurring theme of finding or returning home. Typically, I describe an event, dream, or thought about being lost and trying to find my way home again, which is often agonizing. Then I relate it to Homer or Virgil and wrap things up with a witty observation. Well, as witty as I can be. But, as my father once told me reassuringly, a nitwit is still a wit.
Not so this time. Why? Because I am beginning to think the search for home is a farce or, if not a farce, a narcissistic delusion. Think about it. What’s the one condition that must exist in order for there to be a search for home? You have to lose it. You don’t search for something you already have. But, to paraphrase a certain farm girl in ruby slippers, if you can’t find home, it may be because you never lost it in the first place.
So, many of us search for something we already have like the absent-minded academic who has to be told that his reading glasses are on his head.
The search for home can take many forms. Some are positive and involve things like work, family, or self improvement. The latter is a multi-billion dollar industry including everything from books and exercise to surgery and kelp. Some are negative and cause people to implode. We all know the list.
As they say about greatness, the search for home also can be thrust upon us like the struggle for democracy taking place in Hong Kong right now. If we are anything at all, we are creatures of history. It is in the air that we breathe.
The hidden enemy is restlessness, which obstructs our line of sight so that we end up not seeing home even when standing in the middle of the kitchen. It tricks us into leaving the house, slamming the front door and swearing that we will never look back. Except sometimes we do look back.
I remember years ago going for a walk in the dark after dinner and looking back into the house. I could see my wife at the kitchen sink and my children playing in the family room. That was home and I knew it. It has taken me decades to get it back. Even now, I stand in the street and look at the latest version of that scene: daughter at the sink, grandchildren in the family room. This is family history.
Thankfully, it is never too late to come to your senses, to recognize your place in the world and settle into it without resentment or remorse. Restlessness fades with age and small successes. You don’t need a major client, award, or prize to accept who you are with all your fears and foibles. Does not God come to us as a “still, small voice” rather than an earthquake (1 Kings 19:12)?
In a practical sense, this is about not taking things or people for granted, being grateful for the life you have rather than the one you want, and acting as a positive force in the world rather than an egotistical or destructive one. Notice I didn’t say perfect. We are all human, and I have learned through years of teaching that people fear two things: imperfection and failure, both of which are as inevitable as taxes.
What lies at the heart of these fears? Death, obviously. Why bring it up now? I can’t say for certain except that October begins the long period of dying and death. There is a change in the air. You can smell it. You can feel it. It rises up from the earth like steam in a swamp.
If death approaches in any of its forms, the way to prepare for it is not to run off on some misguided search but to stay home and stand your ground. It is to remain loyal to the people and things that have been there all along. After all, you only get so many chances. Only so many.
Where then, death, is thy sting (1 Cor 15:55)?
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