A host of streams have converged – setting me on a pilgrimage to my true, authentic self in God. (I reflect upon these streams — and encourage others to do the same for themselves—in that Zoe-Life Exploration which is “Homecoming: A Journey to the Heart of the Gospel… and Our ‘True Selves.’”)
Among these streams has been a deep longing for home–a place of belonging, a place of authenticity.
I’ve always been a nostalgic personality – deriving great pleasure in reminiscing about former, idyllic times and places and people. Scenes from Cumberland, Maryland especially come to mind here. Both sets of grandparents lived there. No matter how many times we’d move (because of Dad’s work with Shell Oil Company), Cumberland was a permanent home base. It’s where my parents and siblings and I would always return for summer vacation — for three to four weeks, each year, up until I was age 13. There was a romantic aura surrounding those days and that place: Dad was ours completely (for whole days and weeks!), cousin time, meals galore, evenings (visiting… and just sitting) on front porches,…
When I returned there after a break of several decades, I found myself running all over the area. I was in a frenzy to visit all the old haunts – clicking pictures at a furious rate. Amidst it all, there was an inner feeling – really a compulsion of sorts – that seemed to be telling me that, if I looked hard enough, I was going to find or recapture something I had lost there.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned that nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’ Nostalgia is quite literally the “pain we feel to return home.” It helps me to make sense of the feelings I have had for Cumberland… and recent times of returning there. Clear to me, now, is the understanding that I had not lost anything in Cumberland as much as I had lost something in the years that Cumberland was so important to me. Cumberland was but a surface expression of — a symbol for – the deeper pain I was feeling to “come home.”
I don’t think I am alone in this longing, this “homesickness.” We may look for it in different places (and people and pursuits), but we’re all looking.
Rod Dreher discusses it in his book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem:
There is a word for this thing I feel, this desire that has defined the coming and going of my life, both on the map and in the landscape of my heart… I knew now, from reading Dante, that I suffered from what the Welsh call hiraeth (pronounced “hear-wreth”), a boundless longing for a home from which you have been exiled, an unsatisfiable yearning for a home that may never have existed… (pp. 258-259).
There is a remedy for this homesickness, I am convinced. Dreher points to it – as did Augustine and Dante and so many poets and Saints across the ages. Ultimately, you see, it’s a hunger and yearning for God… and the things of God. It is, as Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, a “homesickness for God.” And finding God (and life and living in God) and letting God find us is, I am convinced, the cure.
In my “gropings” for home, Cumberland was, for many years, as close as I came to experiencing the real thing. It will forever hold a special place in my mind and heart.
Greater, though, is my deep gratitude for a real home that is out there (and within) – a home for which Cumberland is but a shadow.